Five Theatre Superstitions Explained
The theatre has a storied history of tradition and superstition, with most contemporary theatre companies still abiding by age-old superstitious practices. Many would call this kind of behaviour childish or naive, and many more would probably call it superstitious, traditional or age-old. Before you start throwing around hurtful labels, join me on a journey into the past as we uncover the truth behind these hugely stupid delusions.
by Kyle Gatehouse of Matt and Kyle and Matt
1. Never Say "Good Luck", Always Say "Break A Leg"
Dancers are a joke. They are stunted artistic growths, having stepped on stage for the first time and thought, "Yes, simply flopping my body about on these planks like some puppet whore is all I aspire to in this world, I am now a professional dancer."
Actors know that moving your body onstage is but one of many necessary skills required to deliver a proper performance, and as such, universally revile dancers and their beautiful, toned, peak-performance physiques.
By telling another actor to "break a leg", you are engaging in a duo hate-wish against the dancers of this world, for if a dancer breaks their leg they have nothing, but if an actor breaks their leg, they have drama.
2. Never Whistle in a Theatre
Many believe this tradition grew out of a logistical necessity, as in the past a stage manger would communicate cues to stagehands via a series of coded whistles. An actor haphazardly whistling backstage could accidentally cue a set piece to come flying down and injure someone, or worse, slightly disrupt the performance.
While this explanation seems somewhat rational, the truth of the matter is this: no one in the history of the human race has ever enjoyed the sound of another human being whistling. It is, without question, the most irritating sound in the universe. Theatre owners know this, they also know how sensitive actors are to criticism, and so invented a false story about whistling stage managers to covertly tell their actors to shut the hell up with all that atrocious whistling.
3. No Peacock Feathers Onstage
This is a relatively lesser known, but still practiced, superstition. It was believed that the markings of the peacock's tail feather resembled the evil eye, and brought bad luck to all aspects of the show.
In reality, peacocks are a vicious and vengeful fowl, and will stop at nothing to retrieve their stolen plumage. Digging through the archives of any hospital near a theatre will reveal countless incidents of pecked-out eyeballs, talon wounds and irreparable psychological trauma associated with colourful birds.
4. The Ghost Light
The Ghost Light is a single, naked light bulb left onstage once the theatre has closed for the night. It is meant to give the ghosts of the theatre a light in which to perform, in order to appease them and prevent any malevolent behaviour.
In actuality, this is a rather recent tradition, following the popularity of the hit 1984 American sci-fi comedy, Ghostbusters. Struggling theatres would place a light onstage in the hope that their actors would inherit the charm and charisma of hit American comedy actor Bill Murray.
A little known sister tradition of The Ghost Light is the Ramis Refulgence, in which a single, smaller light bulb is placed in the furthest corner of the theatre basement, and a pair of wire frame glasses are balanced on the bulb. This is thought to prevent the type of stale, one-note performance that Harold Ramis delivered in the hit 1984 American sci-fi comedy, Ghostbusters.
5. Never Say "Macbeth"
For over four hundred years, theatre professionals have lived in fear of the Scottish Play. If its name is uttered in a theatre, the offending party must perform a cleansing ritual, which usually consists of leaving the theatre, spinning around three times, spitting, reciting lines from a different Shakespeare play, then being invited back in.
The real reason you're not supposed to say Macbeth is because no one actually likes Shakespeare. It's all a sham. Everyone pretends to like it because they're told it's incredible, because they'll be shunned by the theatre community if they say otherwise.
Theatre owners know this, and produce Shakespeare plays ad infinitum because they know the public will flock like sheep to each and every boring re-hash.
Macbeth, one of Shakespeare's most popular plays, is not supposed to be said for fear that the public will hear the name and wake up from their mass hypnosis and realize that it's super awful to sit through three long hours of Olde English and sweaty tights.
So there you have it. The next time you're whistling in a pitch black theatre wearing peacock feathers and shouting "good luck with Macbeth!", you'll know why you wake up in the hospital.