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Theatre Superstitions

Theatre provides a safe space to try new things, be creative and surround yourself with like-minded people. Theatre gives casts and crews countless opportunities while taking small ideas and morphing them into larger-than-life productions.

Below are common theatre superstitions and a bit of history for each one:

1. The Scottish Play

Unless you are on stage, rehearsing or acting in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, you are under no circumstance ever to say “Macbeth” while on a stage or in a theatre. Instead, it should be referred to as “The Scottish Play". This superstition stems from the fact that some actors have suddenly died during performances of this play. It’s also possible that this superstition is tied to fears about the lines of the three witches in the play as they stand around a cauldron casting a spell. Other theatre historians believe Shakespeare’s plays were often produced (on the cheap) to help failing theatres pull out of financial ruin; cheap budget cuts paired with onstage duels and normal theatre stresses led to larger-than-life rumours of horrible acts occurring during production.

This superstition is still alive today. If an actor or crew member does say the actual name of the play, they must go outside, spin around three times, spit, and say a Shakespearean curse word.

Interested in reading more theories on this superstition? Click here.

2. “Break A Leg”

Saying "Good Luck" is supposedly bad luck and so instead we say "Break A Leg". There are many theories about the possible origin of this phrase. One possibility goes back to ancient Greece, when Greek citizens stomped their feet when they enjoyed a play instead of clapping their hands. If the audience members stomped their feet hard enough, it was believed that someone would eventually break a leg. So when an actor says “break a leg” to another actor, they are hoping that the actor’s performance garners overwhelming appreciation from the audience.

Another possible origin of this phrase comes from the days of vaudeville. In vaudeville, when an actor gets to appear onstage, it’s called breaking the leg of the curtain. An actor who breaks the leg of the curtain has the good fortune of getting paid for that night’s performance.

Want to learn more? Click here.

3. Whistling In A Theatre

Whistling in a theatre is said to be bad luck. big no-no! Fly crews in theatres used to hire out-of-work sailors. Sailors communicated through a series of high pitched whistles with each other. This form of whistling was used on boats to express quickly how sails should be raised and lowered. As these men moved to theatrical spaces to work, the whistling continued. So a person whistling around the stage runs the risk of having a piece of lighting or a heavy curtain drop down on them.

Today, there are professionals in charge of manipulating stage equipment, but the superstition persists.

4. The Ghost Light

Traditionally, a light should always be left on stage in a theatre, even when it is unoccupied, to keep the space from being completely dark - this is referred to as the "ghost light". Thespis was the first well-known actor in ancient Greece. He is one of the spirits said to cause havoc in theatrical productions. Broken props, delayed starting times, and falling set pieces are just some of the problems that are attributed to the spirit of Thespis. In order to fight off this bad luck, theatres leave a light on at all times to ward off Thespis and other mischievous spirits. Today, many theatres still leave on a single light even when they are closed.

Practically? Technicians are often the first in and last out. The light is a safety precaution in a dark theatre to prevent actual broken legs.

Want more information about Thespis? Click here.


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