Oct 19, 2009

Theatre Superstitions

In the world of theatre, many people say, “good performances come with a lot of luck.” One of the eternal quests for us performers is, how do we acquire such luck? Now this question has been considered and answered by hundreds of thousands of people. Just a few rituals that hopefully bring good luck and fortune/some theatre musts are:

1: NEVER say “Good luck,” for fear the opposite might happen. You say “break a leg” or “have a good show!”

2: There is no whistling in the theatre. This theatre rule came from a time when distinct whistles were used as cues for the stage crew. Should another whistle from down the hall disrupt who knows what could happen!

3: Don’t leave the theatre completely dark, there should always be a Ghost Light on. At the three SHN theatres in New York, its crews take this tradition very seriously. At the Orpheum, the head electrician constructed a standing lamp with two fixtures. The larger 1000-watt light burns brightly and should it fail, the smaller 500-watt fixture will be triggered to go on. And in the event of a power outage, the Ghost Light is on the generator. Aside from keeping the ghosts away, there is a practical issue that when it’s pitch black in the theatre, you really could break a leg.

4: If you sell the first ticket of a show to an elderly person, it’s good luck. If you sell the first ticket to a younger person, the show will not last. Try telling that to the producers of Avenue Q.

5: A theatre cat can be good luck. It certainly worked for Andrew Lloyd Webber.

6: A bad dress rehearsal = great opening night!

7: Never use a new makeup box for an opening show. Not that you would fall on your face but who wants to use something new at a particularly stressful time?

8: Pinching an actor/actress before an entrance brings them good luck. Not only will they be alert but probably bruised as well.

9: Wearing green is said to be bad luck, although it worked well for the Broadway musical Wicked.

10: A rubber chicken backstage keeps the cast and crew on track. This is a relatively new ritual that started with the Orpheum Theatre stagehands.

11: Never say, “Macbeth” while you are anywhere near the theatre for fear you will awaken the ghost and set a dreadful curse upon the theatre. Instead, ALL stage personnel should refer to it as “The Scottish Play.” Some don’t believe in this superstition but many take it quite seriously.

12: Never open an umbrella on a stage. This theatre superstition started back in 1868 when an orchestra leader named Bob Williams, said goodbye to his theatre company before going away for the weekend. He opened his umbrella onstage before walking outside into a torrential downpour. He later that day was on the stern of a boat waving good-bye to a few friends. As it sailed away one of the engines exploded and Williams was instantly killed. The public seemed to believe that the opening of the umbrella and the tragic death were connected, starting a tradition that lives on to this day. And naturally in some plays you are required to open an umbrella as a part of stage direction. The “counter spell” to this act of misfortune, is simply to open the umbrella facing the floor.
13: Candles are an instant omen of bad luck.

14: Never actually knit onstage. It is said to entangle the production.

15: Tripping before an entrance or backstage is good luck.

16: Canes = good. Crutches = bad. Crutches imply injury and sickness.

Now as crazy as some of those may sound, actors/actresses in every theatre believe in at least one of these superstitions. You decide for yourself what helps bring luck on your side.

Some unlucky objects to have in a theatre are:

1: Peacock feathers. The “eye” of the feather is associated with the “Evil Eye” so peacock feathers are said to summon evil.

2: Real jewels/real antiques. These things are said to be bad luck mostly because of the fact that fake ones look better and more extravagant than real ones from the audience, and are not as valuable if damaged.

3: Real food. Real food is said to cause disasters on the stage and not only that, it can be difficult to work with. Many people have found that Twinkies are a great substitution for many foods.

4: Real flowers. Real flowers require water and if a vase was to be spilled on stage, there is a risk of slipping and plus, there is a mess on the stage. There once was an actress who slipped on a petal, fell and broke her leg on stage.

5: Real bibles. It is said to be unlucky and disrespectful to use a real bible on stage. A similar-looking book is to be used instead.

6: A yellow clarinet in the orchestra is instant misfortune.

Well there you have some of your classic superstitions. Check out the video below for a little more info.

Theatre Superstitions:
Theatre Superstitions


  1. Check out the movie, Never Say Macbeth. It's really fun, and you'd like it a lot. Go to www.neversaymacbeth.com for more info.

  2. Hey, thanks! I'll be sure to check it out!

  3. I really enjoyed these--some I had actually never heard before! Nice!