This collection of theatre superstitions started as a post in one of the forums, but wound up here as a collaborative article.
Among them are:
- Never say "good luck" instead always say "break a leg." Back in vaudeville days, producers would always book more acts than the evening could accomodate (in case some acts got canned / boo-ed off, etc) so you would only get paid if you broke the the visual plane of the stage. ie got past the leg curtains and onto the stage. Hence: "break a leg" = "Hope you get onstage and actually get paid."
- Never say "Macbeth." Always refer to it as "that Scottish play." Actors are very superstitious over this one. I was running sound for a production of "Lion in Winter." Before we opened the house one evening, an actor was rehearsing his lines on stage. He stepped up on a platform, held out a dagger in front of himself, and said "Macbeth." All eight or nine people (techies, actors, etc.) in the house turned in unison said, "What?" Well, that night, the lead went up skipping two pages in act one, a major prop broke, we had a lamp burn out in act two, etc.
- Never whistle on stage unless it is part of the play. The reason for this is that most theatres were in sea ports. They were hemp houses, and they employed sailors ashore to run the rigging. The sailors would whistle commands to each other. So, whistling on stage was an open invitation to have a batten or sandbag fall on your head.
However, as I am the flyman at my venue and I was in the Navy, I whistle on stage from time to time (except when I'm within ear shot of certain crew members as they really don't like it. I figure I can be a self-centered jerk or I can be polite. I choose polite).
- Always leave one lamp on stage on at all times. This is the ghost light.
- Don't break the fourth wall. This means never go from the stage to the house, or vice versa, by going through the invisible wall that would be there if the curtain was solid and the stage was a separate room from the house. Always go through a door backstage that leads into the house or a hallway that goes to the house. At one venue where I work, this means going out the back (stage) door and around to the front of the theatre (and yes, I do it, every time ).
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