Historical beliefs

Believer or skeptic, how methods of spiritual communication came about is an interesting subject. Here we look at beliefs of days gone by and the methods used to protect or communicate.

Theater Superstitions (in collaboration with 'The RiPA Theater Project')

Posted by RiPA Rep on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 Under: Superstitions

“Actors and actresses make magic. They make things happen onstage. They invent. They create.”

Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat

Actors are usually considered superstitious people. In a world where the slightest mistake can spell disaster and the lines between reality and fantasy blur, it’s not hard to see why.

With so many superstitions allocated to the performances, the plot and the thespians, is it any wonder why theaters hold a certain magical aura.

So what are some of these superstitions and what is
'The RiPA Theater Project'all about?
This blog will deal with some of the more classic superstitions in the run up to
'The RiPA Theater Project'.

Quite possibly, the most commonly
known superstition is the old saying “Break a leg.”
This is an actor’s odd way of wishing the rest of the cast good luck. Some actors believe that saying “Good luck” attracts the attention of spirits of mischief, who make exactly the opposite happen. Another take on the phrase means that they hope you have to take so many bows at the end of a play that your legs break.

Whistling backstage is considered bad luck, but this is one superstition that has some factual ground. In the old days, most stagehands (people who arrange props and scenery) were out-of-work sailors, whose means of communication was coded whistles. If you were to accidentally whistle the tune for “Lower the curtain,” you’d find yourself hit in the head with a half-ton curtain. Another explanation was an old Cornish saying about the Devil: “Whistle and I’ll come to you.”

In some theaters there is a light that is never turned off called the ghost light. This either wards off ghosts or keeps them happy with enough light by which to put on their own plays, depending on legends in a particular theater. But like the whistling, this light serves a practical purpose. It guides the first person into the theater, and the last person out.

The most famous jinx in theatrical history
is probably the title of Shakespeare’s
infamous tragedy, Macbeth.
This word was has been a constant source of fear for actors. In one of the play’s earliest performances, real knives were substituted for props, resulting in a death. Saying the word Macbeth or quoting the play has been believed to be a curse on both the theater and the show.

The spells recited by the three witches in Macbeth are real incantations from ancient witchcraft, which made some people think that they were inviting evil into the playhouse to wreak havoc. On the realistic side, any show with multiple fight scenes done with heavy broadswords and special effects involving fire and smoke is bound to have its share of accidents.  If it must be referred to, the euphemism “The Scottish Play” or “The Bard’s Play” is used.

If someone does quote Macbeth, they are pushed out of the theater. They must do a varying list of things to be admitted back in. This list includes turning around three times, spitting over their left shoulder, and either  cursing or quoting another one of Shakespeare’s plays. Then they must wait to be admitted back into the theater.

There are numerous other omens
of bad luck, like opening a show
on Friday night, real jewelry, flowers and mirrors being used onstage, and speaking the last line of a show before opening night. But the fact is they are all ungrounded. So why have these taboos lasted so long?

These superstitious actors enact things that have never happened. Fantasy and reality become one on the stage. Mistakes can be disastrous not just because someone may lose their life, but the audience may cease to believe in the character— a different kind of death. People of the theater make us believe in the fantastic, if only for a little while.

Maybe we cannot become a person who does not exist and bring to life places we have never been, but these superstitions formed from that magic belong to all of us. And in repeating them, even if we don’t believe in them, we become magic people of the theater after all.

In : Superstitions 


Tags: theater  haunted  superstitions 
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