Theatrical superstitions

Theatrical superstitions are superstitions particular to actors or the theatre.


Main article: The Scottish Play

William Shakespeare's play Macbeth is said to be cursed, so actors avoid saying its name when in the theatre (the euphemism "The Scottish Play" is used instead). Actors also avoid even quoting the lines from Macbeth before performances, particularly the Witches' incantations. Outside a theatre and after a performance, the play can be spoken of openly. If an actor speaks the name "Macbeth" in a theatre prior to one of the performances, he or she is required to leave the theatre building, spin around three times, spit, curse, and then knock to be allowed back in.[1]

One version of this legend claims that it was the actor who played Lady Macbeth who died during the play's first production run and that Shakespeare himself had to assume the role. There is no evidence that this legend is factual.[2]

Not wishing "good luck"

Generally, it is considered bad luck to wish someone "good luck" in a theatre. Prior to performances, it is traditional for the cast to gather together to avert the bad luck by wishing each other bad luck or cursing – in English-speaking countries, the expression "break a leg" replaces the phrase "good luck". The exact origin of this expression is unknown, but some of the most popular theories are the Shakespearean Theory or Traditional Theory, and the Bowing Theory.[3]

In Australian theatrical circles saying "good luck" is also avoided, but the replacement is often "chookas!"[4]

Ghost light

Main article: Ghost light (theatre)

One should always leave a light burning in an empty theatre.

Though it's a superstition, it does have practical value: the backstage area of a theatre tends to be cluttered, so someone who enters a completely darkened space is liable to be injured while hunting for a light switch ( which has happened to many before).[5]

Ghosts in Broadway Theatres

In 2005, Playbill ran an article about Broadway theatres that were believed haunted.[6] The following is a list of hauntings from that article:

Ghosts in Minor Theatres


Related to a similar rule for sailing ships, it is considered bad luck for an actor to whistle on or off stage. As original stage crews were hired from ships in port (theatrical rigging has its origins in sailing rigging), sailors, and by extension theatrical riggers, used coded whistles to communicate scene changes. Actors who whistled would confuse them into changing the set or scenery and could result in injury or death. In today's theatres, the stage crew normally uses an intercom or cue light system.


See also


  1. Garber, Marjorie B. (1997). Shakespeare's Ghost Writers: Literature as Uncanny Causality. Methuen. pp. 88ff. ISBN 0-416-09432-5.
  2. Kerr, Euan. "Mystery surrounds roots of the Macbeth curse", MPR News, Minnesota Public Radio website, published 2010-02-05, retrieved 2012-06-14.
  3. "Theatre Superstitions". Backstage Magazine. Retrieved 2007-12-06.
  4. "Chookas!", By Colin Peasley, manager, Education Programme for The Australian Ballet
  5. "Theatrical Superstitions and Saints". Retrieved 2007-12-06.
  6. Viagas, Robert. "The Ghosts of Broadway", Playbill website, published 2005-06-10, retrieved 2012-06-14.
  7. Khan, Shazia. "Ziegfeld Girl's Ghost Said To Haunt Broadway Theater", NY1 website, published 2009-10-26, retrieved 2012-06-15.
  8. 1 2 Gamerman, Ellen. "A Web of Superstition: As 'Spider-Man' suspends construction, some wonder if a theater is cursed", Wall Street Journal website, published 2009-08-28, retrieved 2012-05-30.
  9. Hetrick, Adam. "Troubled Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark Delays Broadway Opening Again". Playbill website, 2011-01-13, retrieved 2012-05-30.
  10. Internet Broadway Database page for the Times Square Church
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