Baseball players use the same lucky bat, football players don’t change their game day socks, and for years I have not stepped on sidewalk cracks for fear of breaking my mother’s back. Superstitions run deep in some people, but none more than theater people who have a long list of unique theater traditions.
Theater folk are a fiercely superstitious breed and they follow certain traditions to ward off bad luck and make each production go smoothly. Some traditions are rooted in historic theater lore, while others actually seem to make pretty good sense. Check out some of our favorite theater traditions.
Break A Leg
One of my favorite theater traditions that has made its way into mainstream American life is the phrase “Break a leg.” This means good luck even though it sounds horrible. In Shakespeare’s time, ‘break’ meant ‘bend’, so to ask someone to ‘Bend the Leg’ meant to take lots of bows at the end of a performance. Then there are the die-hard thespians who believe that there are theater ghosts or fairies who like to cause mischief by or wreak havoc on your production. So saying the opposite is better luck than wishing someone good luck. Go figure!
Flowers Before a Performance
You should never give a reward before the event has occurred, therefore giving flowers before a performance is another no-no in the lore of theater traditions. To give a bouquet of flowers to the actors, director, or producer before the end of the show would, again, tempt the fates.
Terrible Dress Rehearsal Means a Great Performance
For this superstitious belief, I really think it is a way of chasing away the night before performance anxiety and nerves. Many actors really believe that all the things that go wrong (and there are usually a lot of things that go awry) during the last dress rehearsal are a good omen of the opening night. Most likely, this lore came from tired cast members who are nervous about the upcoming show and need that adrenaline boost of the opening night to shoo the worries away!
The Ghost Light
For decades crew members have been leaving on one light – the ghost light – to ward off bad spirits after each performance. Many believe this superstition came from too many people tripping over props and other items left behind the curtain. Others believe it is the ghost of the first actor, Thespis, who is haunting the stage at night.
Does your theater group have any unique traditions? Share them with us and let us know where the traditions came from. We love to hear all the great superstitions.