Theater stage

If you’re a theatre kid and you hear the word “Macbeth,” you’ll more than likely check your surroundings to ensure that you are not, in fact, in a theater. If you’re not a theatre fan, you’ll probably question your friend’s on-edge response, and they’ll launch into the lengthy history of that legend, among others, that the theatre community holds as gospel.

Save yourself from listening to long, drawn-out stories. Here’s a crash course in three of the largest theatre superstitions.

Do not say “Macbeth” in a theater. Just don’t.

You might be thinking, “Anne, it’s a play. Why can’t I say one of Shakespeare’s most famous works in the theater of all places?”

The history on this superstition dates back to 1606, when the play was first performed, according to At the first performance, the actor who was cast as Lady Macbeth died, and Shakespeare was forced to find a last-minute replacement. Then, in 1947, actor Harold Norman was playing the title role in the production when he died after suffering an accidental stab wound during a stage battle.

Countless stories of the same nature can be found aside from those two. So, do yourself and your fellow actors a favor by using the term “Scottish play” if you must talk about Macbeth while in a theater. Bonus points if you use the term in public, too. If it accidentally slips out, make sure to leave the theater, spin around three times, spit over your left shoulder and say a Shakespearian line. (I’m not kidding.) By doing so, you will hopefully reverse the curse.

Say “break a leg” instead of “good luck.”

There are different reasons for this one, as there are several cited origins of the phrase “break a leg.” One explanation of the myth is that theatrical fairies are believed to lurk in theaters, and they like to cause a disturbance by doing the opposite of what the cast wants to happen. Saying “break a leg” is meant to confuse these fairies and prevent them from interfering with the show, according to Playbill.

For a more technical explanation, the “leg” in the term “break a leg” refers to the curtain hanging in the wings. By entering the stage, an actor is breaking the leg. In Vaudeville times, actors would wait backstage unsure if their act would make it into the show, so it was a great victory to “break the leg,” or to be onstage.

If you mess this one up, there’s no known cure, aside from a sincere apology to your friend or castmate in the show.

Leave the ghost light on when you leave the theater

If you’ve ever been to a theater after hours, you may have noticed a single lamppost-looking light on stage. This is called a ghost light, and the reason for its existence is hotly debated in the theatre community. Some believe it wards off ghosts and clears the theater of bad energy. Others believe it’s installed so the ghosts that inhabit every theater can see more clearly and be more comfortable in their home.

Whatever the case, don’t leave a theater unlit. That one light makes a whole lot of difference.

Are there more theater superstitions that we didn’t mention? Leave a comment or send us a message to let us know.

Life and Arts Editor

Anne Simendinger has been with The News Record since 2017 as a staff reporter, digital producer, and life and arts editor. She is the Cincinnati senior editor for BroadwayWorld and the Scripps Howard Communication Intern for Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati.