We, in the theatre, have a LOT of superstitions. They have played a significant part in the history of theatre and those who are mindful of history try to be mindful of these taboos and avoid them lest there be repercussions with a high price to pay.
Like “don’t whistle in the theatre”.
This was a practical rule at one time that over time became a superstition. Many years ago stage hands were corralled from the docks with unemployed sailors as the sailors used similar rigging on ships as are used in the theatre. They communicated scene changes by using a variety of coded whistles. If someone was randomly whistling as they crossed the stage it could unwittingly bring a set piece down on your head.
Keeping a ghost-light lit overnight when everyone has left the theatre was used to ward off evil spirits namely Thespis, the first known actor back in ancient Greece. Apparently he would like nothing more than to wreak havoc on theaters around the world and somehow this single light spooks the spook.
It also may come in handy when the last one out or into the theatre is fumbling around in the dark to look for the light switch. Dunno…
And then, of course, there is the ubiquitous superstition of NOT saying the title of Shakespeare’s famous “Scottish Play” that starts with an M…
NO – not Merry Wives of Windsor.
The speaking of the title and any lines from the play are thought to carry a curse that may cause unspeakable harm and even death to someone in the company. It is thought that the witches curse “Double, Double Toil and Trouble” etc… are authentic witch’s curses and if spoken aloud will invoke these curses on those in the production.
If you slip up on this one the remedy is pretty simple…
but kind of involved…
but kind of fun.
The person who said the title or quoted from the play must exit the theatre, turn around three times, spit, say the foulest Shakespearean curse or another one that comes to mind (you’re an actor, I’m sure you’re well versed in these things) then wait for permission to reenter the theatre.
With all these superstitions who has time to actually learn their lines, blocking and get on with the damn show?
As if these and many other superstitions aren’t enough for us to keep track of we create our own little superstitions; self imposed superstitions or “rituals” that we as actors incorporate into each production, which if not done regularly or more specifically, ritualistically, can induce the same fear of fate, but with less dramatic affects.
I’ve gotten myself into a few routines – for instance I go around to all of the company members dressing rooms, stage management office, crew rooms and the orchestra pit to wish everyone a good show.
(Have a good show Judy!)
What happens if I don’t do this?!?
After the number “Me and My Baby” in Chicago, as company members come off stage, myself and one of the dressers wait for them and on the button of the number strike a different and ridiculous pose.
What if I’m not there to participate?!?
Sometimes, again, superstitions begin out of a necessity. There are traffic patterns backstage that are sometimes more complex than what you see on stage. Tight passage ways, single doorways, crew members crossing for cues, dancers exiting in a single file line, eight people long, while you need to make your next entrance all screams for organization.
If you aren’t standing in the right spot you might miss your entrance.
So be in the right spot!
Cause if you’re not you might bring on some bad-ass luck like…
losing a laugh…
dropping a line…
or having the walls of the theatre crumble around you.
Dramatic? Of course, this is the theatre!
But will something actually happen?
For YEARS I thought that something… might, and that was enough for me to just keep on keepin’ on. Well, that can cause it’s own set of problems, like getting into a rut.
Repetition can be your friend unless you are in a long run show then, for your own sanity, you need to shake things up a bit, keep it fresh, don’t get stale.
You can’t create art on an assembly line. You can create a finished product that looks nice and runs well but to have something special it needs to be unique and not bogged down by overly precise, meticulousness.
Spontaneity is my dearest friend of late. The more I can be in the moment, present for what’s happening right now the more true and authentic I can be, which creates SO MANY more interesting options than staying in a rut of ritual.
This may sound like Acting 101 but so many “rules” change in long runs. The rules of acting still apply but how to keep it fresh and spontaneous is a trick that can only be answered by each individual.
So I’m trying my damnedest to break myself of these habits, these rituals and break free of repetition of superstition.
See… old dogs can learn new tricks.
“You be good and I’ll try.” – Martin Harrison (my great-grandfather)