taboos and superstitions

Definition

Theater

  • Few professions have more taboos and superstitions than the theater.Lucky items include black cats, three-leaved clovers, horseshoes, and anythingmade of ivory, while unlucky ones include peacock feathers, green clothes, andreal flowers anywhere on stage (excepting only the bouquet presented to theleading lady at the curtain call). Stanislavsky would not playMephistopheles because he believed that something bad always happened to himafterwards. Eleonora Duse once talked a chimney-sweep into giving herhis broom as a good-luck token for opening night, while Katharine Hepburnalways crossed herself when entering a theater in which she once flopped.Florenz Ziegfeld carried a tiny red elephant for luck and left hisname off the billing for Follies of 1907 to avoid having more than 13letters in the title. Noël Coward once claimed his only superstition wasnever to sleep 13 in a bed.

    Many actors believe it is a sign of good luck to fall flaton one's face when making a first entrance, since nothing worse canthen happen. Most superstitions, however, are about bad luck. Theyinclude:

    Never calling Macbeth by its title (see ScottishPlay).

    Not rehearsing the last line of a play.

    Never peeping out at the audience from the 'unlucky' side of a loweredcurtain (as there is disagreement about which is the unlucky side, most theatersprovide a peep hole in the middle).

    Never leaving a theater entirely dark, even when it is unoccupied(see ghost light).

    Not wishing an actor good luck on opening night (the jovialinjunction Break a leg! is preferred).

    Not unpacking your make-up box until the reviews appear.

    Being sure never to whistle backstage or to applaud from the wings(see whistling).

    Any actor or stage hand who breaks any of these taboos is usuallyexpected to leave the room immediately and to turn around three times and spitbefore being readmitted.

    Many other beliefs concern omens and auguries, notably:

    The belief that a good dress rehearsal portends a disastrousopening night (and vice versa).

    The belief that leaving a bar of soap behind in the dressingroom means that you will never play that theater again.

    The belief that it is unlucky for a visitor to enter the dressingroom with the left foot first.

    The belief that the length of a run can be predicted from the age ofthe first person to buy tickets when the box office opens (the older theperson, the longer the run).

    see also Dr Faustus; gypsy Robe; toi toi toi!

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