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Theatre Stereotypes and Superstitions by Elizabeth Free

Every community or activity has its stereotypes, and the theatre community is no exception. There are stereotypes that we’re extremely annoying (true), we spontaneously break into song (mostly true), we can’t do math (or, judging from this blog post, write a blog post), and everybody knows we all go through our daily lives wearing scarves and fedoras. Theatre people are also known for being incredibly superstitious. That’s a stereotype there’s definitely truth to. But is there any truth to the superstitions that have earned us our reputation?

Some superstitions are undeniably ridiculous-apply your makeup with a rabbit’s foot, and on closing night, steal flowers from a graveyard for your director. But some are much simpler and are more well-known. Arguably the most famous superstition is that saying “good luck” is bad luck, and instead you should say “break a leg.” There are multiple different beliefs of what the origin of this custom is. Some think that we say this because in ancient Greece, audience members would stomp their feet as a form of applause. If someone loved it enough, they might even break one of their legs. But most people believe that it is because the curtains on the sides of a stage are called “legs”, and to “break” one of them would be to enter stage.

On Mondays, Broadway goes dark. Well, almost dark. It’s a custom in theatre to always leave one light on in the house so that the ghosts of the theatre can still see (and even perform if they feel like it). The Belasco Theatre in New York, where Sean Hayes’s play Good Night, Oscar, is set to open in April, is known for being one of the most haunted theatres on Broadway, and actors, techies and audience members alike swear to see the ghost of the theatre’s namesake, David Belasco, still wandering around the theatre, chatting with patrons and ensuring that things are still running smoothly. You’ll find stories about ghosts wandering around theatres in almost every city, and it can’t be that theatre people from places all over the world are simply lying about seeing mysterious spirits. So has all the dressing room hairspray finally gotten to our brains, or have we been telling the truth this whole time?

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