Tonight is opening night of Tempo Theatre’s production of Agatha Christie’s The Hollow in which I am performing. I would like to wish all the cast and crew the very best. Yes, good luck and all that.
Now, there are a lot of superstitions in the theatre. People will tell you that thespians are almost as superstitious as sailors. I don’t know any sailors, so I couldn’t possibly comment. I do know a lot of theatre types. Some of them (heaven forfend) are somewhat pretentious – ’tis the nature of the beast – but few of them are superstitious.
- Good luck – It is considered bad luck to wish someone good luck before performance. Apparently there are evil fairies who listen in and pervert the positive vibes – conspiracy theories, anyone? So people wish each other ill-luck to confuse these easily befuddled fairies. Many English-speaking thespians exhort each other to ‘break a leg’ and Australians announce ‘chookas’. This apparently originates from the fact that actors are poor and chicken is expensive so if the house was full and the actors were paid according to box-office takings, they could afford chicken for dinner. ‘Chooks it is’ was shortened to ‘chookas’ and it’s off to KFC for all. Classy folk, those Aussies.
- Macbeth – Some folk claim that if you mention Macbeth (or quote lines from the play) in a theatre or you will have to leave the theatre, turn around three times, spit, and knock on the door to be invited back in. Apparently the play is cursed, and several explanations are offered. One; because it contains a lot of sword-fighting and people are likely to get hurt, two; the witches were cross that their secrets were revealed, three; some idiots believe the Globe was burned down during a performance of Macbeth. (It was actually Henry VIII – live cannons on stage will do that for you). For this reason, theatre folk tend to refer to it as ‘the Scottish play’. To that I say, ‘bollocks’. Or, in the immortal words of the fabulous Stephen Fry, “Macbeth, which we actors call [pause for dramatic effect] Macbeth.’
- Whistling – this one does actually have a reasonable origin. It is considered bad form to whistle in a theatre, because riggers used to use a code of whistles to change set, scenery, lighting and other stage effects. Since the invention of communication devices, however, this is hardly relevant.
- Bad dress rehearsal – people claim that a bad dress rehearsal means a subsequent sterling opening night. What tosh. A bad dress rehearsal means the cast and crew are under-prepared and it is something directors are forced into saying to boost the spirits of their woeful company.
- Ghosts – every theatre worth its salt has a resident ghost. It’s a great scapegoat for things going missing or not being where you swear you set them. Theatres are usually closed for at least one night a week, to allow the ghosts to have their own performance. Never mind that the actors need a rest. Or that the off-night is usually a Monday when paying audiences don’t tend to go out after a hectic and expensive weekend.