Break A Leg But Never Whistle: How Stage Superstitions Live


Theaters are places of superstitions, legends, ceremonies and supplications. And no stage superstition has more adherents than the one covering Shakespeare’s Scottish play: Anyone who says the name Macbeth aloud in a theatre, except in a rehearsal or performance of the play, risks disaster.

“I said the name of the Scottish play on stage,” playwright Lynn Nottage recalled recently. “And the next day my mother died.”

When Will Smith slapped At this year’s Oscars ceremony, Chris Rock invoked the Twitter curse. Minutes before the splits, The Rock had greeted Denzel Washington, the star of Joel Coen’s “’.The Tragedy of Macbeth” by saying: “’Macbeth!’ I loved!” Talk of the curse again made a stir when performances of the current Broadway revival of “Macbeth” were canceled after lead actor Daniel Craig tested positive for coronavirus.

Admittedly, the origins of the “Macbeth” ban are nonsense as an invention of the 19th century critic and essayist Max Beerbohm. In 1898, Beerbohm wrote a column claiming that a young male actor died just before the game’s release. But the taboo persisted, and the stories of “Macbeth” – contiguous injuries, accidents and deaths began to pile up. (Fear not: If you accidentally pronounce the name, you can resist the curse by exiting the theater, performing a ritual that usually involves turning and spitting, and then asking to be taken back in.)

More recently, this taboo has befriended other stage clichés – don’t say “good luck”, don’t wear green, don’t give flowers, don’t whistle, don’t put a mirror on the stage, always leave a light. over.

Superstition, of course, is not unique to the theatre. However, as noted by theater professor and author of “The Haunted Stage,” Marvin Carlson, theater encourages otherworldly thinking. “There are very few haunted banks,” he said. “But most theaters are said to be haunted. This is a very, very common feature. There is clearly something in the aura of theaters.”

Anjna Chouhan, lecturer in Shakespeare studies, says, “These are strange spaces, aren’t they? Strange spaces where people fantasize and emotions are very high.”

Lots of things can go wrong during a live performance – a choppy line, a missed clue, a weird prop. Chouhan suggested that actors may subscribe to superstitions and participate in some very specific pre- and post-show rituals as a way to keep this contingency at bay. “There’s a lot to be said about ritual and routine,” Chouhan said. “It is the way you force control over the uncontrollable.”

Some players always leave the locker room on one foot, while others pray. Some carry lucky charms. “When you take on a character, you are doing something dangerous. Somehow you are playing with your core or your soul,” Carlson explained. “You get a talisman to protect yourself as much as possible.”

The Times spoke to a handful of actors—believers and skeptics—who are currently in Broadway shows about superstitions, personal rituals, and whether they’ve had a flirting moment with the supernatural in the theater. (No “Macbeth” actors participate. Is there a superstition about talking to reporters?) These are edited excerpts from the speeches.

Are there any theatrical superstitions you subscribe to?

Definitely the one about “Macbeth”. Definitely break a leg.

Have you ever had a theater experience that felt extraordinary?

The first day we moved into Booth, the original theater where “For Girls of Color” opened, something was falling apart. In our dressing room, we would put a bag on a shelf and it would just fall off. Kenita Miller is my locker room friend. We both looked at each other, “Oh, Ntozake is here. He’s here to greet space.”

Do you have a pre-show ritual?

i light palo santo for good vibes, good energy. And I play a lot of music to get me in the mood. I’m wearing a few crystals that one of our wardrobe team gave us. If I need to focus, I’ll wear tiger eyes. If I want to make sure I’m on top of my voice, I wear the blue one. This is the throat chakra.

Is there anything special you keep in your dressing room?

There is a picture of my great aunt. Her name is Mary Childs. She was a performer in her own time. She is a tap dancer. He was very encouraging when I came, she. That’s why I’m bringing him to the theater.

Are there any theatrical superstitions you subscribe to?

I subscribe to most of them. About a week ago I broke the cardinal, said the name of the Scottish game. That’s why I had to go out. I had to do everything.

Have you ever had an experience in the theater that felt extraordinary?

Anytime. Some people are scared of this kind of thing. I welcome you. Interestingly, we went to Yankee Stadium a week or two ago. We went to the bullfight outside. There was so much energy there. So yes, I absolutely believe that. And I like to think I’m adapting to that. I try to bow to him, to embrace him.

Do you have a pre-show ritual?

Before I go on stage, I find a place in the theater and get down on my knees and surrender to the universe, simply expressing my gratitude for this opportunity.

Have you ever had an experience in the theater that felt extraordinary?

Never in a scary or intimidating way. But every time I walk into an old Broadway house, I go on stage and I look at the house and think of the incredible people who have seen this sight before me. I took the stage at Barrymore where the original “Streetcar” was. “Stella!” I said.

Do you have a pre-show ritual?

I made my Broadway debut with “La Cage Aux Folles”. An actress, Christine Andreas, told me to come down on stage when the audience came in just to feel their energy and let your energy out. I’ve done that ever since.

How about the postshow ritual?

I reward myself with a glass of ice cream.

Have you ever had an experience in the theater that felt extraordinary?

I’ve been to theaters by myself. When I was on tour in Scotland, there was a room that had a piano to play. I was there alone one night. And I definitely felt something. There was no one there, but I felt like someone was there.

Do you have a pre-show ritual?

I have to floss and brush my teeth before going on stage. I want that clarity in my mouth. This is a reset point. So I floss and brush before the show and in between.

Or a post-show ritual?

I like a sip of tequila and a nice Japanese whiskey waiting for me. But it depends on the department. Sometimes it’s hard to get off and I’m going to need a shower. This is the cleaning idea.

Have you ever had a theater experience that felt extraordinary?

I am often the last person to leave. Because of all these rumors and stories, you would think this would be a horrible place. But there is no place more peaceful, comfortable than being alone in a theatre. It really is the most magical feeling, just to feel protected and not alone.

Do you have a pre-show ritual?

The only ritual I have is making sure I’m warm. It takes like 45 minutes. I like to make it at home. I don’t want to worry about who can hear me.

Or a post-show ritual?

During “The Waiter” [while playing the show’s protagonist, Jenna], I did – whiskey and usually a bag of potato chips. My voice doctor at the time said, “You should leave him in the theatre. You can’t bring him home. Taking her pain home literally hurts you.” I liked it a lot. I didn’t want to leave him.

Are there any theatrical superstitions you subscribe to?

Not whistling is one of them. The other is burning a light somewhere. You never want to see a dark scene.

Have you ever had an extraordinary theatrical experience?

At Hackney Empire. in London. A place where Laurence Olivier and all the other great British actors have performed. They always talked about having ghosts. I remember arriving early one day and I could hear the locker room doors closing. I went upstairs and there was no one there.

Do you have a pre-show ritual?

There is a piece of chain August Wilson gave me on the opening night of my first Broadway show, “Gem of the Ocean,” and a picture of my deceased wife. This is the ritual: I blow him a kiss and hold on to this piece of chain.

Do you have a pre-show ritual?

When I go to the theater, which is usually at least an hour before the curtain, the first thing I always do is put on my costume. I don’t really do my part until I put on the costume. People make fun of me but I get really nervous if I don’t.

Or a post-show ritual?

I’m trying to be the last actor to leave the building. To be honest, it feels like I’m locking the theater for the night. I don’t know why I enjoyed it.

Is there anything special you keep in your dressing room?

I am very fond of fragrances. I have a cold mist diffuser and 12 bottles of different scents. I try to never get the same scent twice.

Are there any theatrical superstitions you subscribe to?

I’m not saying good luck. A leg is always broken. The good news is I can’t whistle. So I don’t have to worry.

Do you have a postshow ritual?

Either a hot Epsom salt bath or a cold immersion bath, which is a nightmare. And I have these air compression boots that I wear at home. If I don’t do one of these, I feel like it will affect the show the next day.

Is there anything special you keep in your dressing room?

it’s called a miraculous medal [a devotional item]. I first learned about them from my late mother. Whenever someone got sick or hurt, he would give them to people. He had one, that was very special. We grabbed it as we passed by. This means a lot to me. So when I’m nervous, this is my talisman.



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