Preparing for a performance can be a very stressful time for an actor or actress. In addition to memorizing lines and stage directions, they must be careful to avoid the many theatre superstitions. Although there are not always explanations for these superstitions, students believe they can have an impact on a performance.
Freshman Emma Kapp has heard numerous theatre superstitions regarding ghosts. First, there is a superstition that the theatre should be closed at least one night a week to give ghosts a chance to perform their plays. Also, there should be a ‘ghost light’ left out so the ghosts will be able to see when performing their plays. If this does not happen, the ghosts might become angry and play pranks on the performers.
Many students look to one of these theatre ghosts when odd things happen backstage. “There are weird noises backstage before performances and things get moved around,” Kapp said. “We blame it on a ghost, ‘Thespis.’” It is believed that Thespis of Athens was the first individual actor to speak lines on a stage, which is why theatre performers are often called ‘thespians.’ Thespis the ghost is named after this same historical figure.
There is also a superstition regarding when a play should begin. “It’s bad luck to start a show on time,” freshman Drue Glaser said. “It’s good to start seven to ten minutes late.”
One of the most popular superstitions involves the Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth. “I believe in the superstition that saying ‘Macbeth’ anywhere in the theatre is bad luck,” freshman Christopher Wells said.
According to The Lone Conspirators, there are many legends surrounding this superstition. Most of these legends revolve around actors getting into horrible accidents leading to death after performing Macbeth. For example, during a 1937 production of Macbeth, one of the actor’s swords flew out into the audience and hit a man who later suffered from a heart attack. Plus, the director and actress who played Lady Macbeth in this production were killed in a car accident on the way to the theatre. Due to this, the play is referred to by its euphemism, ‘The Scottish Play.’
“I also heard that you’re not supposed to whistle in the theatre,” Wells said. He explained that in the early theatre days, sailors worked the curtains and would whistle to give each other directions. If someone whistled, a sailor might mistake it for a stage direction and drop the curtain on a performer.
In addition, Wells has heard that sleeping on a script will help an actor learn it faster. Another popular superstition among theatre students is that it is bad luck to wish a fellow performer good luck. As a replacement, they tell each other to ‘break a leg.’
As audience members await the beginning of a performance, they should remember all of the superstitions the actors have considered before they take that first step out onto the stage.