Superstitions of Theatre

Throughout the ages, theatre has developed a wide variety of myths and legends, including many crazy superstitions.

Theatre is a long and storied art with roots tracing back to Ancient Greece and Rome. Over centuries, theatre has developed a large amount of superstition regarding things people cannot do in or around the theatre.

One of these superstitions is centered around Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This show is believed to be cursed, so much so that actors, actresses and crew will avoid saying it’s name out loud, using the euphemism “The Scottish Play” instead. Quoting this show is also avoided. It is only outside the theatre or after a performance that one can speak of it openly. If an actor is unfortunate enough to mention it, even in passing, it it said they must leave the theatre building, spin in a circle three times, spit on the ground, curse and then knock to be allowed back in. One semi-popular version of the legend claims that originally, the actor who was to play Lady Macbeth died during the play’s first production and had to be replaced by Shakespeare himself. There is, however no basis or evidence for this version of the legend.

Another legend states that one should not say “good luck” before a performance. Usually the cast gather and wish each other “bad luck.” In English speaking countries, many people say “break a leg” instead. The origins of this myth are unknown, but two of the most popular theories are the Shakespearean Theory and the Bowing Theory. Some actors have their own opinions on the subject: “It puts this idea in your head that you have to do great,” said sophomore Sydney Koslica. “It messes with your head… it puts pressure on you.”

Similar to ideas on a sailing ship, it is considered bad luck to whistle backstage at a a show. Back in the day, stage crews for performances were hired from the crews of sailing ships due to the fact that they knew the ropes and rigging that theatre companies used. Sailing crews, and by extension, stage crews, used a series of coded whistles to signal scene changes. Actors who absentmindedly whistled back stage might’ve confused the crew into dropping a random set piece, resulting in injury or death.