Theatre Traditions And Superstitions

The theatre is one of those places that can seem so odd and foreign to people who aren’t involved in the world. There are so many traditions, some bordering on ridiculous or even superstitions, that it can be hard to keep up. Here’s a look at some of the more famous ones and where they came from:

The Scottish Play

Nobody should ever refer to Shakespeare’s Macbeth by name while in a theatre. The only time it is okay to do so is if you are actually performing the play and you need to say the character’s name on stage. Other than that, it’s incredibly bad luck. Instead, you can refer to the Scottish Play.

Why is it such bad luck? Most thespians believe that the play is cursed. The belief comes from the fact that someone died in the very first production of the play back in 1606. Since then, productions have been plagued with accidents, injuries and deaths whenever they are in the theatre and mention the play by name.

Don’t Whistle While You Work

Ever seen a tech crew freak out if a cast member whistles on stage during a rehearsal or backstage in a show? This is because it is more than just bad luck, it could mean you end up with a piece of the set coming down on your head. If you’re caught whistling, you have to leave the building, turn around three times and swear loudly.

While the origins of the punishment or counter curse are unknown, the reason for whistling being bad luck are based in reality. When theatres first started flying set pieces on ropes into the space above or to the side of the stage, the crew members would whistle to each other to signal what action to take next. If you whistled when you shouldn’t, set pieces could come down at the wrong time.

The Bad Dress Rehearsal

It’s a long running superstition that has many origin stories, and many cases that prove the point. Essentially, the theory is that a bad final dress rehearsal means that you are going to have a great opening night.

It’s a good theory, because the disappointment and frustration of a bad rehearsal can spur the actors and crew on to be extra focused and determined on opening night. Actors can also shake off their nerves and discover where their weaker points are, and brush up on those before the curtain raises with an audience.

Good Luck Is Bad Luck

One thing you must never do is wish an actor good luck for a performance. That is essentially cursing them with bad luck. Instead, you should say “break a leg”. This is telling the actor that you want them to bow at the end of the show, meaning they deserve to bow because they performed well. The term literally refers to bowing, as the actor bends at the knee and breaks the line of their leg as they bow to the audience.

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