Theater superstitions

(Bet you didn’t know there are so many)

Some actors believe that sleeping with a script under their pillow will help them to learn their lines faster. This is sometimes known as “learning by diffusion”.

Rehearsing on Sunday is said to be very bad luck (perhaps due to people being out late Saturday night).

A bad dress rehearsal foretells a good opening night. Possibly, this is an example of sour grapes. However, it has a tendency to be true in that cast and crew are scared straight by a bad dress rehearsal and therefore fix their mistakes by opening night. (Alternatively, a director may offer this superstition to boost the confidence of the actors after they were disheartened by the bad dress rehearsal.)

It is bad luck to wear the color blue onstage, unless it is countered with something silver. As blue dye was once incredibly expensive, a failing acting company would dye some of their garments blue (thereby having no money to pay the actors) in the hopes of pleasing the audience. As for the silver to counter it, one would know that the acting company was successful and truly wealthy, or a rich person was funding the theater, to enable actors to wear real silver.

The color green is also considered to be unlucky. This is said to date from the time when most performances were given out-of-doors. Wearing green would make it hard to distinguish the actor from grass/trees/bushes in the natural setting beyond the performing area.

Certain articles of clothing in green or yellow are seen as being very bad luck. This is because they are the traditional symbols of the Devil in the old Miracle Plays. The bits of costume to be wary of in these colors are a tie, a vest, or a hat.

The Green Room is a cozy backstage room for actors to assemble when they are not on stage, logically near the dressing rooms with quick access to the stage. To help actors catch their cues for their entrances, in the Green Room are monitors that broadcast the play’s action and, often, the audience responses. Woe to the person who clutters it or turns it into a personal storeroom, demonstrating a selfish self-centered arrogance that shows no respect for the theatre, its traditions, or its actors! The Green Room also is the place where audience members come after a production to embrace the cast. A Green Room should never be painted green.

A yellow clarinet in the Orchestra will bring disaster.

Peacock Feathers should never be brought on stage, either as a costume element, prop or part of a set, as chaos will ensue.

It is bad luck to have mirrors on stage. Having mirrors on stage is avoided where possible because in ancient times it was believed that looking into a mirror could open up your soul to the devil. Actors are also well known for being terribly vain so if a mirror is visible, they will spend more time looking at themselves then at the audience.
In reality, having a mirror on stage is a nuisance for the lighting as it causes all sorts of difficult shadows and reflected glare, which is difficult to control. Using real jewelry can cause the same problems.

It is considered unlucky to have another person look into the mirror over your shoulder while you are on stage or making up before the show because misfortune is sure to befall the person being overlooked. This may come from the belief that the undead have no reflection.

You should use a rabbit’s foot to apply makeup. You should never clean your makeup box. You should NEVER wear brand–new makeup on opening night.

Never place shoes or hats on chairs or tables inside the dressing rooms.

Always exit the dressing room left foot first.

Absolutely no knitting in the wings.

Whistling on or off stage is a taboo because it is considered bad luck and supposedly brings dire results, such as someone (not always the whistler) will be fired.

The main reason for whistling being thought of as being bad luck comes from the days when out of work sailors often worked in the fly loft (area directly above the stage where scenery is stored when not in use). In the days of tall ships and galleons, the sailors that manned them were experts with ropes and knots, having to raise and lower the sails and tie the ships to the quayside. Much of the scenery in the theater was pulled (flown) up to the roof in a similar way to sails being heaved out, (Theatrical rigging has its origins in sailing rigging), and by extension theatrical riggers, working on the ropes used to communicate to each other by whistling. This was fine unless a person whistling a tune walked across the stage while men were working overhead. They would hear the whistle and start lowering the pieces of set. If the set hit you, you could prove another theatrical superstition and become a theater ghost yourself.

Ghosts haunt theaters and should be given one night a week alone on the stage.

There should always be a light burning in an empty theater. For centuries, a myth has held that the light is protection from spirits, because if the theater ever went completely dark, lonely and resentful ghosts would realize everyone had gone and proceed to cause all sorts of mischief. Conventionally, the ‘ghost light’ is placed downstage center, illuminating the space when it is not in use. It provides ghosts with enough light so that they can see. A theater’s ghosts always want to have enough light to see. Failure to provide this may anger them, leading to pranks or other mishaps.
It also prevents non-spectral personnel from having to cross the stage in the dark, falling into the orchestra pit, dying in the fall and therefore becoming ghosts themselves.

One specific ghost, Thespis, holds a place of privilege in theater lore. On what has been estimated to be November 23, 534 BCE, Thespis of ancient Athens (6th BCE) was the first person to speak lines as an individual actor on stage (hence using the term “thespian” to refer to an individual actor). Any unexplainable mischief that befalls a production is likely to be blamed on Thespis, especially if it happens on November 23.

To wish someone ‘Good luck’ before a show is bad luck. In some theaters it is tradition for the cast prior to the performance to gather together to await the “bad luck” by wishing each other “bad Luck” or in some countries by cursing. The expression “Break a Leg” replaces the phrase “Good luck”. In Shakespeare’s time, to ‘break’ meant to ‘bend.’ So, bend your leg, means to take a lot of bows.

A company should not practice doing their bows before they feel they deserve them.

Offhandedly, don’t say ‘Macbeth’, or even quote that play, in a theater. Ever. Saying the word ‘Macbeth’ in a theater will result in extreme bad luck. To avoid the bad luck, you must utter the words “Angels and ministers of grace defend us!” Refer to the play as ‘The Scottish Play’ or ‘The Bard’s Play’ and the title character “the Scottish Lord” in order to avoid pronouncing the word. If the name is spoken in a theater, there is a cleansing ritual one can do to rectify the mistake. One ritual is the person is required to leave the theater building, spit, curse and spin around three times, before begging to be allowed back inside. Another is reciting a line from another Shakespearean work, brushing oneself off, running around the theater counter clock-wise, or repeating the name 3 times while tapping their left shoulder.

One never claps onstage as it also was used by the stage crew sailors overhead to communicate, so clapping brings bad luck.

It is bad luck to complete a performance of a play without an audience in attendance, so one should never say the last line of a play during rehearsals. To get around this, some production companies allow a limited number of people (usually friends, family, and reviewers) to attend the dress rehearsals.

Gifts such as flowers should be given to actors after a show, as opposed to before. If an actress receives flowers as a present, she may wear them before or after the performance, but considers it to be very unlucky to wear them when she is actually on the stage. Artificial ones are generally used instead. Live, real flowers on stage are bad luck.

If a doll of a baby is ever used during a play, superstition dictates that whenever it is off stage in the wings, it should be placed face down. This stems from ancient China where it was believed that if a baby doll is left face up a ghostly spirit that resides in each doll will be let loose to cause havoc.

A black cat usually is considered bad luck but not in theatre, some theatre practitioners think it brings good luck.

Some actors believe that having a Bible onstage is unlucky. Often, other books or prop books will be used with Bible covers.

No real money should be used on stage.

It is considered unlucky to wear real jewelry on stage, as opposed to costume jewelry.

To stumble over anything on making an entrance, the actor firmly believes, will cause him to miss a cue or forget his lines.

If an actor’s costume catches on a piece of scenery as he goes on, he must immediately retrace his steps and make a new entrance, or else suffer misfortunes of all sorts during the rest of the performance.

Walking canes are said to represent success and health.

Crutches are said to represent failure and serious injury.

Fresh paint and costumes are very flammable so candles are obviously dangerous. Whoever is closest to the shortest of three candles burning together is soon to get married or die (what an option).

These tunes are all seen as being unlucky: ‘Three Blind Mice’, ‘The Death March’, and ‘I Dreamt that I Dwelt In Marble Halls’, the latter is not heard much lately :>)

In some companies, wearing the T-shirt of the play being produced before opening day is considered bad luck. Other companies however hold the exact opposite opinion, and actually encourage their actors to wear the shirt as often as possible before opening night to increase ticket sales.

Like any business, theatre is about making money. It is a bad omen to start off a show with an ’empty’ cashbox. To avoid being doomed to disaster, many house managers will ask comp ticket holders to please wait to be seated, until a paying customer has first entered the house.

A man must be the first to enter a theater on opening night. A similar theory as the one above, a woman should never be the first to enter as it will mean the run will be cut short.

True: You should never look at the audience from the stage side of the curtain, e.g., sticking your head out to see who is there.

True: A common saying “In the Limelight” comes from calcium oxide bulbs or from when an oxyhydrogen flame was directed at a cylinder of quicklime (calcium oxide) and used in follow spots illuminating the main star of the show.

Date published: September 30, 2016