Top 10 Theatre Superstitions Debunked

Superstitions are all encompassing. Even the creative industry is maligned by the dark and mostly unnecessary belief in the supernatural. Normally there are several logical explanations behind such beliefs. Here I’ve tried to expose such 10 interesting theatre superstitions.

10. Mirrors

Theatre Superstitions Debunked

Having mirrors on stage would bring ill-luck.

Debunking the superstition: It’s a common belief that mirrors can reflect one’s soul and breaking of which would mean breaking of the soul. It can lead to seven year of recurring bad luck on the individual as well as on the theatre company. In spite of this prevailing superstition, mirrors were often employed onstage to cater to technical needs such as light reflection et al.

9. The Blues

blue on-stage performance

Wearing blue on-stage was believed to bring bad-luck. And if the play necessitated wearing blue, the ill-luck could be reversed by wearing silver by other characters.

Debunking the superstition: In the old days, preparing a blue dye was hard work therefore costly and out of the reach for most theatre companies. Even back then competition was high among the theatre companies and some of them, in order to create a false picture of their success would purchase blue garments. But the strategy backfired and unable to bear the cost of costumes the theatre companies went bankrupt. Following this, wearing of silver colour garments gave way to a new strategy. It was to imply that the company was in its hey-day churning out highly successful plays so much so that they could afford garments made of real silver.

8. Three Lit Candles

Three Lit Candles

Three lit candles onstage will bring ill-luck.

Debunking the superstition: Before electric light became all prevailing, candles were used to lit households, streets & all public places including theatres. It was said that the character who while performing on stage came near to the smallest of the three candles will either have good luck (will soon get married) or bad luck (death) bestowed on him. Paints used to adorn sets were highly flammable. It was rational to be greatly cautious with the burning candles that could easily end up burning down the theatre. So why not cook up a superstition?

7. Peacock Feathers

Theatre Superstitions Debunked

Use of peacock feather was restricted onstage as it will lead to chaos and failure of the play. The cursed ‘evil eye’ on the feathers would set off all sorts of disasters ranging from fire breaking out on the set or the set may itself collapse.

Debunking the superstition: In the Greek mythology of Argus, the peacock is said to have received its eye from a monster whose entire body was covered with several eyes. The reason behind such generous donation is unknown. Man has forever tried to find reason in everything and chaos can very easily be attributed to a monster.

6. Ghost Haunting

Ghost Haunting

Many actors who had died onstage or simply loved their profession is said to haunt the theatre stages. To maintain these wandering spirits every week a single night was given to them to make use of the empty stage.

Debunking the superstition: Thespis, an actor from the 6th century BCE Athens was supposedly the first individual actor on stage. The story goes that when he died he turned into a notorious ghost causing mischief in theatres. Thus Monday nights were chosen to serve the double purpose of appeasing the ghost as well as providing a day off for the actors after weekend performances.

5. Light In Theatre

Ghost Light on Stage

This superstition came as a solution to the above. Light possess the power to ward-off evil spirits so every empty theatre was to be lit up with at least one candle.

Debunking the superstition: “Equity Light” or “Equity Lamp” were placed downstage centre so that the people working in the backstage area would not get blinded in the darkness and hurt themselves.

4. Whistling

10 Theatre Superstitions Debunked

Had someone whistled on or off stage mistakenly, it was understood to bring bad luck for a theatre professional who was soon set to lose his job.

Debunking the superstition: Before the invention of technology, communication between short distances were done by whistling. A wrong tune may give the wrong idea which would lead to disastrous outcomes for the play & someone would end up losing his job.

3. Good Luck

Good Luck on stage

Wishing the performer good luck before a play would only bring bad luck.

Debunking the superstition: In theatre the expression ‘breaking a leg’ was synonymous to ‘good luck’ so the former term was also prohibited as it may bring ill-luck. The word ‘leg’ on stage often implied to side curtains and the actors constantly moving on and off stage ran the risk of ‘break the legs’ and exposing the works going on in the backstage.

2. Gifting Graveyard Flowers

Graveyard Flowers

Gifting flowers stolen from the graveyard to the director and the leading lady of the play after the closing night will bring good luck. On the contrary flowers gifted before the show would bring bad luck.

Debunking the superstition: Logic says flowers given on closing night would mark the death of the show. What can be more apt than to use graveyard flowers that’ll symbolise death. And it came free of cost.

1. Macbeth

Theatre Superstitions Debunked

Uttering Macbeth’s name in the theatre would be bring disaster for the theatre or the actors may end up injuring themselves. Allegedly Shakespeare had placed a curse on the play to make it impossible to adapt it in future. If anyone had recklessly mentioned the name, his act needed to be rectified by a cleansing rituals.

Debunking the superstition: ‘Macbeth’ being a popular play was often portrayed by failing theatres. Unable to bear the cost of presenting such an elaborate play such theatre companies went bankrupt.

Interesting stuff:  In an episode of ‘The Simpsons’, the Simpson family while on a trip to London meets Sir Ian McKellen outside a theatre where s ‘Macbeth’ was being played. Every time the name ‘Macbeth’ was uttered disaster would befall on McKellen.