acting, backstage, disney, entertainment, Fear, stage, stage manager, stage managment, theater, theater education, theater superstition

What’s Haunting You…or Did You Break A Theater Superstition?

Ever have a time in your life where you felt like you just needed to stop doing what you were doing and just play and have a good time? It’s been such a year that I did just that this past weekend. Disney was celebrating a “Boo Bash” on Sunday night and I thought it was a “hauntingly” great time. If you ever have a chance to experience that I would highly recommend it!

What holiday appeals to theater people? Why, one where you can dress up and pretend to be another character of course! Halloween is full of superstitions and well, so is the theater!

Here are a few of my favorites and why they exist.

1. No whistling backstage.

Have you ever heard that you should never whistle in a theatre? This superstition started in the 1600’s . About that same time much of the scenery began to “fly” in–or in audience terms–be raised and lowered with ropes and pulleys. Sailors were often employed as stagehands in theaters because of their extensive knowledge of ropes. They would communicate with each other by whistles to bring backdrops in or out. So a mistimed whistle would..well, make you a part of the scene.

2. Always leave a light on.

This light is more of a safety measure than a scare tactic. It is to be placed on the stage as a safety measure so that there is always enough light to keep workers from falling or tripping. Long ago people started arguing that the real purpose was to chase away unwanted spirits or to keep the ones that live there happy!

3. No peacock feathers on stage.

Yes, they are beautiful, but did you ever look at the pattern? Many people think it looks like an evil eye! They’ve been rumored as the cause of forgotten lines and broken sets as the “evil eye” curses the show.,

4. Don’t say the ‘M’ word!

Probably the most famous of all theatrical superstitions. Saying ‘Macbeth’ in a theatre will immediately bring you bad luck. According to folklore, the play’s history of bad luck began at its very first performance (circa 1606) when the actor scheduled to portray Macbeth died tragically and the show has been cursed ever since.

5. Never light three candles.

They said good things come in threes but I guess not in this case! Tradition states that the person nearest the shortest candle will either be the next to marry or the next to die. Why? The best we could discover is the thought that open fire is always dangerous on stage and more candles means there is a greater chance that a fire could get out of control. Did you know that Shakespeare’s Globe was burned down during a production of Henry VIII?

6. Break a leg.

Most of us know that you should never wish an actor “good luck.” There is a theory that this tradition started from the idea that the word leg doesn’t mean an actor’s leg. Instead, it refers to a curtain that masks the backstage. If you “break a leg” it means you’ve crossed from the backstage into the playing area. That means you are in the spotlight– which is exactly where the actor wants to be!

7. Give those flowers at the correct time.

The traditional method of giving flowers to lead actors after a show is a nice thing to do, but make sure those flowers are never given before a performance. You must not reward an actor for their work before they do it otherwise it might cause the production to close early.

8. Mirrors are a no-no.

By having a mirror on stage, you run the risk of it getting broken, but practically speaking they also reflect light and might wreck the lighting design. A misplaced reflection could blind an actor and potentially cause them to tumble off the stage. So instead people began to say that a mirror was a gateway for evil spirits.

9. Never wear blue on stage.

Many people haven’t heard of this one-perhaps because the reason behind it doesn’t exist anymore. There was a time when blue dye was the most expensive fabric covering. So, producers started a rumor that blue costumes were unlucky. It was all about the money.

I loved learning more about the history of some of these thoughts that theater people talk about! Many times there are practical reasons we do what we do. I don’t tend to be superstitious and I certainly don’t believe that evil spirits are roaming about on our stage. However, I do love to dress up and can’t wait to open our next show.

I hope you all get lots of candy this weekend….and if you give me flowers–give them to me AFTER the show!

Until next time–this is just me-talking to you–from the wings.

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