When Andrew Lee Vincent took his own life last year, a darkness loomed over Lafayette's once vibrant community theater scene.
Duncan Thistlethwaite turned to social media that September day but couldn't find words to capture such a loss. Instead, he posted a photo of an empty theater illuminated by a single light bulb on a stand set at center stage. Dozens followed his lead, using the eerie image of a ghost light as the banner photo on their own Facebook pages.
"There was nothing to say," Thistlethwaite said. "That image said it all — that this light in the darkness was gone."
Now, nearly a year later, Vincent will return to three Lafayette theaters in the form of ghost lights like the one in that Facebook photo.
The custom lights feature his name vertically on the stands and suicide prevention information at eye level.
"My heart is so full," said his mom, Ashley Vincent Saizan. "I can only imagine what Andrew is thinking. I just picture him crying tears of happiness. It's the most beautiful gift."
Vincent's family and friends donated the ghost lights to the Robert D. Sidman Theater at Cite des Arts and James Devin Moncus Theater at the Acadiana Center for the Arts on Tuesday afternoon.
They plan to donate a third to Burke Theatre at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette when students return for the fall semester.
"I hope others find comfort in them like the theater community has," said Cindy Hebert, Vincent's former roommate. "The story is that you're never alone. It's a light to guide the path. It's a comfort."
Ghost lights are a common safety fixture in theaters across the country. They typically feature a single, exposed light bulb mounted on a portable stand that is placed at center stage to provide light after hours to an otherwise dark theater.
They're are also said to provide opportunities for supernatural performances when no one else is around. It's a common superstition that every theater has a ghost.
"It's a very spooky feeling when you go into a dark theater," said Cooper Helm Jr., a technical director and Vincent's friend. "It's eerie because so much life plays out on stage, so much emotion happens on stage."
Vincent was just 23 when he killed himself. The news came as a shock to the theater community.
This was a man who had adamantly spoken out against suicide after a friend took his own life. He was in the middle of directing a production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." He was scheduled to complete his high school-equivalency degree the next day.
Vincent's creativity — as an actor, director, dancer, singer, artist and designer — had been a light to so many. He is remembered as an old soul in a young man's body, as someone whose talent was well beyond his years. He started his own theater company, The Tea Sippers, when he was just 14 years old.
"The guy didn't need school," Helm said. "He had the it factor. No doubt about it. He had the it factor."
Many of those who worked closest with Vincent took a break from community theater in the months following his death. Shows were canceled, stages dark.
"Everybody was immobilized," said local actress Jody Powell. "It was hard to step into the theater buildings where Andrew had been because he wasn't there anymore. Some felt his presence there. Others were worried they wouldn't, that it would give them a hollow feeling."
Powell started a Facebook group where people could grieve together and an online fundraiser where people could donate for memorials in his honor.
The ghost lights are the first of several planned projects.
Vincent's loved ones have purchased pieces of a boardwalk going in at Moncus Park. They're commissioning an artist to paint electrical boxes with Vincent's artwork. They're planning a fundraiser show that will feature a compilation of scenes Vincent acted in, directed or designed.
"This light is to make us safe in more ways than one," Powell told a group of about two dozen people at Cite des Arts on Tuesday. "We stumble in here, but we stumble in life as well. Remember, you are not alone."
And with that, the audience offered Vincent — in the form of a ghost light illuminating the stage — a standing ovation.