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The Dartmouth
May 30, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Ghost Light Coffee Bar: Northern Stage’s New Pop-Up Cafe

To fulfill White River Junction’s unsatisfied need for coffee and provide a new community space, the theater company has opened a new pop-up cafe.

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On Oct. 9, Northern Stage — a professional theater company in White River Junction, VT. — opened the Ghost Light Coffee Bar, a pop-up cafe  located in the lobby of the Barrette Center for the Arts. 

The Coffee Bar is open Monday through Friday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. They serve an assortment of hot drink options: tea, drip coffee, and hot espresso drinks, as well as select baked goods and treats from King Arthur Flour. The cafe uses Mountain Grove Coffee for their coffee beans, which roasts locally in White River Junction. Ghost Light currently does not serve iced drinks, but they hope to purchase an ice machine soon, according to Abby St. Pierre, the sole employee of the Coffee Bar. The cafe also offers free Wi-Fi and only takes cards — no cash.

The cafe seating area, which doubles as the Barrette Center lobby, is well-decorated. According to Smoller, the furniture was either donated to the company or taken from a past production. If the furniture is a piece from a past production, it has a laminated card situated next to it, with the title of the corresponding show, and a photo of the piece in that show.

The walls are covered with lively and eccentric photos from past productions. Posters displaying information about the current show also occupy the walls. Currently, these posters present historical and cultural information about Afghanistan to provide context for viewers of “Selling Kabul,” the play currently being put on by Northern Stage. In addition, there is artwork produced by Afghan artists on display, as a result of the company’s recent partnership with ArtLords. 

According to Wansley, the name for the cafe comes from the well-known theater phenomenon of a ghost light — a light which is left burning on the stage of a theater when it is unoccupied. The functions of a ghost light are safety and superstition. It ensures that people do not fall off of the stage or into the orchestra pit, and also is believed to either keep out or welcome in ghosts that inhabit the theater. 

The term Ghost Light fits the coffee bar because it is intended to “brighten” up the North Stage space, according to Wansley. Depending on its success, Wansley, St. Pierre and Smoller hope that Ghost Light Coffee Bar can become more than just a pop-up.

“Everyone who comes in is so nice and loves it, it’s just a question of if we can keep it going,” St. Pierre said. 

Sarah Wansley, associate artistic director, and Jason Smoller, managing director of Northern Stage, said that the vision for the cafe was sparked by an unfulfilled desire for a cup of coffee in White River Junction. 

“From 3 to 5 p.m. there’s nowhere to get coffee, and people want coffee — especially an afternoon coffee, since people [at Northern Stage] work late,” Wansley said. 

The lack of coffee spots in White River Junction is due to the recent closures of Juel Modern Apothecary and Piecemeal Pies. While Putnam Vineyards, a local plant shop and wine bar, serves coffee, it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, according to St. Pierre. Tuckerbox, a Turkish restaurant in White River Junction, also serves coffee, though it is closed from 3:00 p.m to 5:00 p.m. 

In addition to providing caffeine for the town, Wansley and Smoller created Ghost Light with the intention of it being a community space. They want to welcome the community into Northern Stage for reasons other than their productions. 

“We have a vision of folks doing homework, meeting for coffee and reading,” Smoller said in an interview with Broadway World. 

The Coffee Bar is also intended for aspiring theater actors and production designers, according to Wansley. He encourages students to come visit the cafe, in hopes of further strengthening the Dartmouth-Northern Stage bond. According to Smoller, Northern Stage houses around 200 talented members that contribute to the company’s productions each year. 

According to St. Pierre, Northern Stage employees and White River Junction community members make up the majority of the cafe’s regular customers. St. Pierre noted that Northern Stage employees and families who participate in the Youth Ensemble Studio program receive a discount on cafe products.

Smoller made it clear that Northern Stage is a theater first and a cafe second. That being said, Smoller explained that the cafe does not impose much of a burden on the company. Overhead costs are low, since the lobby is already heated.

“[Northern Stage] already pays for insurance and heat, and they have a concession window, so the only real added costs are [St. Pierre’s] salary and coffee,” Smoller said.

Since it is a pop-up, the cafe is only scheduled to operate through Nov. 10. Nevertheless, Smoller and Wansley are hopeful that it will become a recurring community space.

“Even if [the Coffee Bar] has to close in the winter, we hope to reopen it in the spring,” Wansley said. 

Correction Appended (Oct. 27, 11:48 a.m.): A previous version of this article stated that Northern Stage's concession stand paid for insurance and heat. The article has been updated to reflect that these costs are otherwise integrated into the Northern Stage budget.