Monday, February 10, 2014

Theatre Superstitions

In the realm of superstitions, theatre-folk seem to have the majority of them. Some theatre superstitions are very well-known, such as the substitution of “Good luck!” for “Break a leg!”, or never saying “Macbeth” in a theatre (or even on/before an opening night; that superstition has lots of different variations). But it seems every actor, no matter how small or big, has some sort of superstition surrounding the theatre. But why?

Theatre superstitions have been documented for years; the earliest documentation of the Macbeth curse stems from the 1600s. Countless theatre superstitions have lingered until even today. Some of the most common ones include not whistling or clapping backstage, or leaving a ghost light turned on after the theatre is closed for the night to ward off mischievous ghosts. It is also said that having a bad dress rehearsal foretells a good opening night. Some theatre companies adhere to the rule of not saying the last line of the play during rehearsal (or not staging curtain call until dress rehearsal) because they are afraid of jinxing their run, since the play is not finished until opening night. Theatre box offices also tend to have their own superstitions, such as not admitting a patron with a complimentary ticket before admitting a paying patron.

There are definitely a lot of things that can go wrong in a show, in the blink of an eye. So it does seem logical that theatre folk step lightly around the things they believe might tip the scales on how successful their show is. It is in human nature to cling to and believe in things that give you hope. If it makes you feel better to follow some sort of superstitious ritual every night before standing on a rickety set that you pray won’t collapse underneath you as you dance on top of it, then so be it. As per the ghost light superstition—there may not even be rumors of paranormal activity in your theatre, and yet you don’t want to chance it for the sake of the show.

However, there are a lot of logical roots and explanations for some theatre superstitions. The ghost light could represent how the theatre doesn’t want to “go dark”, which is a term theatre-folk use to describe days the theatre is closed. And Macbeth used to be performed by failing theatres as a last-ditch attempt to get an audience, since it is one of Shakespeare’s most interesting and exciting plays (and also has the negative connotation of the superstition attached to it, which draws people in). Also, “Break a leg” could simply mean, “I hope your show performs so much that the curtains (some of which are called legs in theatre-speak) break from so much usage!” Clapping and whistling used to serve as signals to the earliest stagehands, who tended to be sailors (because they could easily climb into the flies and handle the ropes), so doing either onstage could be mistaken for an order and some heavy sets could be accidentally dropped on the unlucky person below.

The fact that there are so many theatre superstitions, whether they stem from logical explanations or not, are all prime examples of both how and why people believe weird things and the perfect topic for our class! And trust me, there are a lot more superstitions surrounding the theatre aside from the ones I merely touched on here. If you want an idea of just how many more superstitions plague theatre-folk, you can read some of my source articles that I have attached below.

Top 10 Theatre Superstitions
Giant List of Theatre Superstitions
Another List of Theatrical Superstitions
The Curse of Macbeth

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