THIS month marks the 20th anniversary of starting my very first job, as an usher at the Richmond Regent Twin Cinema. I was 14 and my first shift was on a Friday night - the busiest night of the week.
A more experienced usher showed me where to stand, the right way to greet people and rip their tickets, and how to guide late patrons to their seats while holding a torch behind my back so they didn’t trip on the stairs.
The job saw me through the remainder of high school and part of the way through uni, so by the end I knew the place like the back of my hand.
I knew the peculiarities of the candy bar registers, the quirks of the post-mix drink fountains, and the exact height and angle at which to place my hands in order to obtain continual flow from the sensor hand-drier in the downstairs female bathroom.
I also worked out which floorboards creaked around the place and which doors squeaked, allowing me to enter and exit the cinemas mid-film in relative silence, so as not to disturb the patrons during the quiet scenes.
From up in the projection rooms - above the constant whirring coming from the film equipment - certain bumps and crashes would be heard, indicating the projectionist was splicing together reels or breaking-down and packaging-up an older film to be sent back to the distributor.
Compared to the operational clatter and the booming coming from the surround sound while a film was in progress, in between sessions the cinemas seemed muted - the type of silence that fills your ears with a loud sort of pressure.
After the first set of movies commenced on my maiden shift, I got to work emptying foyer bins and attempting to sweep-up a particularly nasty trampled popcorn mess, all the while pretending not to eavesdrop on my new colleagues’ banter.
The projectionist was out of his ‘box’, had time to kill, and was spending it gossiping and joking with the candy bar girls. Eventually there was a lull in the conversation and he used the opportunity to engage me in the group’s banter. In a voice obviously designed for me to overhear, he said:
“So, have you told the new girl about the ghost yet?”
Later on that night, I was tasked with turning all the lamps off in the upstairs lounge. I walked up the creaking stairs and stood at the doorway, peering into the dimly-lit room. Taking a deep breath, I hurried around, and got out of there as fast as I could.
This is the area the ghost most frequents, you see.
The heritage building occupied by the Regent was originally a live theatre, which opened in 1935 with a production of ‘My Heart Is Calling’.
Behind the screen in the downstairs cinema, the old stage is still in tact. Ropes and pieces of rigging equipment hang down from the top, forming an old pulley system to control the complicated layers of curtains, wings and backdrops - many of which still remain, limp, moth-eaten and yellowing.
Behind the stage, there are two old dressing rooms, both containing large mirrors surrounded with light fittings - in front of which the cast members would have applied their stage makeup.
There’s a bunch of paraphernalia knocking-around in there: old props, outdated projection equipment, and spools of discarded film - all remnants of bygone eras, left to gather dust.
In 1993, a sound wall was erected to stop the cinema audio from drifting up into the rafters, simultaneously stopping curious patrons from entering the backstage area. It’s all boarded-up, with a locking door. Behind there during the daytime, light streams in from the dressing room windows. But at night, it’s eerie - a chamber of stored memories.
Max Exregent, a projectionist at the Regent for 12 years to 2008, told me a story about a lady who died at the theatre in the 1930s, after she fell from the upstairs stalls to the ground below.
“That might be the ghost that’s been getting around over the years,” he said.
“I found going through the waiting room upstairs a bit eerie; most of the staff members thought the ghost hung around up there or down the stairwell.
“I thought I saw a shadow go past the port holes a couple of times, and a couple of times we would be closing-up at night and we would hear someone moving around upstairs when we were sure there was nobody.”
Leeanne Fern, who worked in the Regent’s ticket office for 16 years to 2012, is a firm believer that the ghost is female.
“I never actually saw her but I felt her quite a few times. I think if I had physically seen her I would have quit or refused to be anywhere in there alone,” she said.
Ms Fern’s experiences include hearing a woman’s loud laugh coming from the upstairs waiting room, sometimes seeing a shadow in the back aisle seat at the far side of the upstairs cinema, and constantly feeling an eerie presence in the upstairs waiting room.
“There was one occasion when I was in the office on my own sitting in the ticket section just filling in time waiting for the last movies to come out and I had the very cold air go through. All the doors were closed and that freaked me out,” she said.
Her scariest experience involved a regular customer: “During an early evening session a man came downstairs and got to the middle of the foyer and sort of stopped and went towards the front door then stopped and turned around then looked confused and quite scared,” she said.
Concerned, she had asked him if everything was OK.
“He said that he had gone to the toilet upstairs and when he came out he heard a woman crying. He stopped and looked and said ‘are you okay?’ to the woman. Then he looked really scared and confused and said the woman had laughed at him and at that point he had realised he could see through her,” she said.
“The man didn't go back upstairs. His female partner came downstairs after a while and they both left. I never saw them again at the cinema.”