A Superstitious All Hallow’s Eve
On the heels of our fabulous reading of Macbeth on Monday evening, and on the eve of Halloween, we thought it especially appropriate to address the one thing that all theatre has in common: superstition.
One of the most famous superstitions is, of course, the curse of Macbeth. Historically, many an accident or bit of unfortunate luck has fallen upon productions of this particular play. Researchers suggest many logical explanations for this, of course. The most popular is that, with this being Shakespeare’s shortest and bloodiest play, it seems it would be the easiest to add to a repertory season at the last moment as a surefire seat-filler. Therefore, back in the day, it was often mounted as a last ditch effort to save a dying theatre company, and eventually came to be associated with a company’s eventual demise. Additionally, this last-minute mounting often resulted in an under-rehearsed company, and with the extensive amount of swordplay and stage combat present in this particular script, one can imagine that accidents would not be uncommon.
Also, the play was written during the height of the witchcraft scare, when publications about demonology were rampant. Lastly, some say that the witches in the script utter actual incantations, which leads to a cloak of evil surrounding the play. Oh, and the play was cursed by Jacobean necromancers. Let’s not forget that one.
Whatever the actual cause, the curse of Macbeth has survived the centuries. Rarely will you find an actor who is entirely comfortable even uttering the name of the play in casual conversation for fear of raining down bad luck. Even though avoidance of the word is technically only a necessity when speaking of it inside of an actual theater, the habit is difficult to break. Instead, “The Scottish Play” is the preferred term, although caveats exist if a company is actually performing the play.
What to do if you accidentally say the “M” word inside of a theatre while not working on a production of it? The reigning antidote is to “leave the house, turn around widdershins (counterclockwise) three times, swear, and knock to be readmitted.” (Best write that down or save it in your phone, because no one ever really remembers when the time comes.)
Other famous theatre superstitions? Read on for a rather complete list of “dos and don’ts” to keep productions lucky and actors safe, thanks to The Steppenwolf “Watch & Listen” blog and The Guardian‘s Theatre Blog. One wonders if it is even possible to put on a play while adhering to all of these rules….
Happy Halloween! — T.T.
1. Always step out of your dressing room with your left foot.
2. Absolutely no knitting backstage.
3. Always say “break a leg” and never “good luck.”
4. Never wear blue, yellow, or green onstage.
5. Never use real jewelry, real mirrors, or real flowers onstage.
6. Never clean out your makeup box.
7. Always wind a found thread around your finger.
8. Never whistle in a theater.
9. Never have more than two lit candles in your dressing room.
10. Always leave the ghost light lit.
11. Apply your makeup with a rabbit’s foot.
12. Never bring peacock feathers into the theater.
13. Never wear brand new makeup on opening night.
14. Never place shoes or hats on chairs or tables inside of the dressing room.
15. Never open a play on a Friday.
16. Never speak the last line of the play before opening night.