If there is one superstition that holds true for all in the theatre, it is that of… Macbeth. In case you weren’t aware, it is horrible luck to say “Macbeth” in a theater. While there is no confirmed origin to its infamy, it is speculated to be caused by many mysterious deaths that took place during productions of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Apparently, and I had no clue this existed, there is a cure for uttering the word that shant be spoken: Exit the theater, spin three times, spit, and utter a Shakespearean insult. Random Fact: President Lincoln read Macbeth days before his assassination, allegedly.
The Ghost Light
Nearly every theatre turns on a ghost light at night, one single light bulb standing in the middle of the stage. Many speculate this tradition began to ward off the evil spirits. I say, “That’s baloney!” I think there is a ghost light so the first person to get to the theatre can see where to go to turn the lights on. But believing in ghosts is a lot more fun. Remind me to tell you about the time I sat in a dark theatre with “real” ghost hunters and all their supernatural gear looking for ghosts. According to the experts, the theatre was very haunted. Again, I say, “That’s baloney!”
There are many theories about where the ‘break-a-leg’ superstition came from. We never say, ‘good luck’ in the theatre, it’s ‘break-a-leg!’ My favorite, and most believable theory of its start, comes from the days of Vaudeville. During this time, theatres would book more performers than necessary in the case that someone got hurt, or didn’t show up. One catch, they would only pay the acts that performed for the audience. Thus, performers would hope that they would break the view of the side curtain, aka the leg, and get to perform. Makes sense to me.
Unbeknownst to me, whistling is bad luck in a theater. After taking a poll around the office, this is more widely known than I expected. This superstition dates back to the original stage hands, who were sailors. They used the same whistling codes for theatrical rigging as they did for ship rigging. So, if “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” was sung back in the day, the rigging would be going crazy!
“Making Your Nut”
Now this is not really a superstition, but rather a great history lesson. This phrase dates back to the 16th century and refers mostly to the producer side of theatre. “Making Your Nut” is to break even. Back in the days of Shakespeare, Pageant Wagons would come to town to perform and the authorities would remove the wheels (or nuts) until the performers had settled all debts owed. Once they’d paid up, the the owner…or bar owner as the case may be, would return their wheels (aka nuts) and they’d be on their way.