Theater superstitions

We’re a society that believes in superstitions. We wear certain items for luck, we cross our fingers when we want things to happen, we refuse to walk under ladders, and we think a broken mirror causes seven years of awful luck.

These beliefs carry over into the theater world, too. Like the alleged curse surrounding Macbeth, which prevents actors, audience members, and everyone else from uttering the production’s name, here are 10 other theater superstitions.

  1. Break a Leg: Most know about refraining from wishing someone “good luck” before a theater production. In English-speaking countries, the phrase “break a leg” is a popular alternative, but really, any wishes for bad luck are acceptable. The “break a leg” phrase is believed to come from the idea that a performer must go on stage and hopefully perform well by “breaking through” the side curtains, known as “legs.” In Australia, “break a leg” is replaced by the phrase “chookas!”
  2. The Ghost of Thespis: According to Aristotle, Thespis was the first person ever to appear on stage as an actor, rather than as someone speaking for himself. This inspired the term “thespian” to refer to actors. Now, any mischief that happens during a theatrical production is blamed on the ghost of Thespis, especially if it happens November 23, the date he first appeared on stage as an actor.
  3. The Appearance of Ghosts: Several Broadway theaters are believed to be haunted by ghosts, usually of individuals previously involved with the venue. To ward off spirits, empty theaters are supposed to place a light upstage center, the furthest from the audience. The light is believed to keep the ghosts away; light the stage in order to keep people from falling into the orchestral pit, dying, and becoming a ghost; and, if all else fails and the ghosts still decide to visit, the light is believed to provide the spirits with enough light to see. Without it, the ghosts could get angry and start pulling pranks. Glad they’ve got all their bases covered.
  4. No Whistling: It’s bad luck for actors to whistle on or off stage. This dates back to original stage crews who used coded whistles to communicate scene changes. If actors whistled, it could cause major confusion. Even though the practice is no longer used, it’s still considered bad luck to engage in whistling in theaters.
  5. Fake Props: Real jewelry and real money are typically not used on stage. Similarly, the Bible shouldn’t be brought onstage. If the Bible needs to be in the play, it’s typically a prop book with the Bible as a cover only.
  6. Full House: It’s bad luck to finish a play without an audience. Therefore, most rehearsals skip the final line of the play, or invite a few family, friends, and reviewers to see the dress rehearsals.
  7. No Bowing: Just like you shouldn’t utter the last line of a play to an empty audience, actors believe final bows should not take place, or be practices, until the absolute final dress rehearsal.
  8. Lack of colors: Actors and actresses are asked to refrain from wearing various colors. Blue is unlucky unless countered by silver, as blue dye was once really costly and failing acting companies sometimes thought dying their garments blue would bring in bigger audiences. (It didn’t.) Silver with blue, however, supposedly proves the company is truly wealthy. Green is unlucky because of when most performances happened outside. It was hard to distinguish actors from bushes and trees. (Seriously.) Also, a famous actor died hours after performing in his own play, and he was wearing green. Actors shouldn’t wear yellow, either, because it was once used by those onstage portraying the devil.
  9. Peacock feathers: Many consider peacock feathers to be bad luck in general. That includes peacock feathers on stage. They shouldn’t be part of costumes, props, or sets. Actors have told stories of peacock feathers causing sets to collapse.
  10. Curse of the Bambino: Sure, this is also considered a curse on the Red Sox, who were unable to win a World Series after the team’s owner, Harry Frazee, sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. The reason Frazee sold Babe Ruth’s contract was to make money for his theatrical expenses, like Longacre Theatre. It’s now believed a curse haunts the theatre, so many avoid backing productions at the Longacre for fear of losing their money to a box office bomb.
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