Old houses full of history, dark corners, strong emotions, and steady foot traffic, theatres are prime locations for spooky activity. They are also spaces deeply rooted in tradition and ritual. Read on to find some of our favorite theatre superstitions and reach out to share the ones we forgot!
No whistling backstage
This, like many superstitions, is actually attached to issues of safety. Before headsets or cue lights, communication backstage was often done through whistling, particularly by the sailors who were frequently employed as riggers and stagehands. In this era, whistling backstage could unintentionally signal a scene change or send something flying in without warning.
Leave a ghost light out
Another safety feature mixed with mythos, the ghost light keeps a space full of tripping hazards, traps, pits, and corners partially lit after the stage lights are turned off. But leaving a single light burning center stage is also said to keep the ghosts and wicked spirits at bay.
Ban blue costumes
In days when many fabrics were hand-dyed, blue and indigo were pricey, sought-after colors associated with wealth due to their scarcity. There are many arguments why these colors were kept off stage, but most are associated with cashflow. It is possible blue costumes signaled a kind of stability that might deter patrons from contributing to the theatre. It is also possible income-conscious producers didn’t want to shell out for these shades.
“Break a leg” but never “Good luck”
Perhaps the best known theatrical superstition, saying “Break a leg” likely comes from a slight play on words. A stage’s side curtains can be called “legs,” and “breaking,” or safely crossing, the curtains onto the stage is an attractive prospect for most nervous performers or technicians.
Mirrors stay offstage
While mirrors are often associated with ritual and communing with the other side, this superstition is really rooted in practicality. Mirrors are a nightmare for lighting designers, and the rumor that they’re bad luck was probably started by the tech team.
Bad dress, good show
Maybe more confidence boost than myth, the belief goes that a bad dress rehearsal foretells a good opening night. Even without a clear history here, it’s certainly one of our more comforting superstitions.
Leave the dressing room on your left foot
Another standby with a mysterious origin. The thinking here is that your left foot is likely not your dominant foot, and you don’t want to waste the energy in your right foot by leading with it backstage. Instead save the right foot for when you first step onto stage. Really two superstitions in one!
Never say M*cbeth
This might be the most storied of our theatrical superstitions. There have been maaaaaany “cursed” productions of the Scottish play throughout history. And with three witches and plenty of soothsaying, the play already feels a little supernatural. Even if it feels silly to avoid this name, better not chance it.
Flowers come after the show
An old tradition holds that actors should receive flowers at the end of a production (ideally thrown to them in front of an audience). It is likely attached to the less-thank-kind belief that if rewarded before a show, actors may not perform as well. Also worth noting is the old-time practice of giving directors a “graveyard bouquet.” Both to symbolize the end of a show and to save money, actors would sometimes gather flowers from a cemetery to gift their director at a show’s close.
Keep peacock feathers off the stage
Among the more surprising superstitions, this one is born from a very old belief. Peacock feathers have long been considered unlucky because of their unique coloring. At the feather’s tip is an “evil eye,” a popular bad omen across cultures.