8 Mysterious, Fascinating Theater Myths

I think we all can agree that the theater can be a very weird and mysterious place, especially if you're an actor or technician. Since the theater has been around for thousands of years, myths and legends are bound to come up and circulate around the theater community.

8. Wearing blue onstage

In the early days of theater costuming, it was extremely difficult to make blue dye and, thus, expensive to purchase. Companies that were failing would wear blue garments to try and fool their audience into seeing their success, and likely go bankrupt due to the cost of the costumes. The silver that countered it was proof of a successful company, as it proved to the audience that they could afford real silver or they had a wealthy backer.

In conclusion, it is bad to wear blue onstage, unless it is contrasted by silver or another color.

7. Mirrors onstage

The myth is many believe that mirrors are a reflection of the soul and breaking one can mean seven years bad luck, not only for the breaker but for the theater itself. However, having a mirror on stage can cause technical issues, such as reflecting light into the audience or into places never intended to be lit. It can also be a source of distraction for vain actors. The mirror superstition has since been challenged with the successful musical "A Chorus Line," and its famous mirror scene.

6. Unlucky rule of three lit candles

While it is adhering to the "rule of three" having lit three candles on stage is considered bad luck. It is said that the person nearest to the shortest candle will be the next to marry or the next to die. Before electric lights were commonplace in theater, the stage was lit by candles, although this is not the origin of the superstition — the unlucky candles had to be on the stage (i.e. part of the set). Logic prevails on this one as with dim lighting, busy people and highly flammable fresh paint on the set, you are running the risk of burning down the theater.

5. Ghosts in the theater

Depending on your theater the stories will change, but there is one specific ghost, Thespis, who has a reputation for causing unexplained mischief. To keep the ghosts of the theater subdued, there should be at least one night a week where the theater is empty; this night is traditionally a Monday night, conveniently giving actors a day off after weekend performances.

4. Ghost light

Conventionally, the light is placed downstage center, illuminating the space when it is not in use, to keep ghosts with enough light so that they can see, which keeps them at bay. This is another superstition with a practical value. The backstage area of a theater tends to be cluttered with props, set pieces and costumes, so someone who enters a completely darkened space is prone to being injured while hunting for a light switch. It prevents those still living from having to cross the stage in the dark, injuring themselves and leading to new ghosts for the theater. It’s also known as the “equity light” or “equity lamp."

3. Whistling

The reason for this superstition was that before the invention of walkie-talkies or comms, the cues for the theater technicians were coded whistles by sailors in rigging given by the stage manager. If one was whistling backstage it could call a cue before its due, which could have disastrous outcomes resulting in someone losing their job whether it be the whistler, the stage manager or the technician.

2. "Good luck"

Generally, it is considered bad luck to wish someone good luck in a theater, the expression “break a leg” replaces the phrase “good luck”. There are many theories of the origin of this superstition of wishing luck to the actors, but here are a few.

1. After a good performance during Elizabethan England, actors were thrown money on the stage and they would kneel down to collect the money thus "breaking" the line of the leg.

2. Similarly, for the curtain call, when actors bow or curtsy, they place one foot behind the other and bend at the knee, thus "breaking" the line of the leg.

3. If the audience demands numerous curtain calls and the actors are moving on and offstage via the wings, they may "break the legs," "legs’ being a common name for side curtains/masks.

1. "Macbeth"

Theater folk avoid using it, referring to the play as "The Scottish Play" or "The Bard’s Play." If the name is spoken in a theater, there is a cleansing ritual one can do to rectify the mistake. The ritual I am familiar with is the person is required to leave the theater building, spit, curse and spin around three times, before begging to be allowed back inside. Other variants include reciting a line from another Shakespearean work, brushing oneself off, running around the theater counter clockwise or repeating the name three times while tapping their left shoulder.

There are several possible origins for this superstition. One option is to believe in witchcraft. According to one superstition, Shakespeare himself got the words from a coven of real witches, who, after seeing the play weren’t impressed by their portrayal. Another says the props master from the original performance stole a cauldron from said coven, and the witches, again, weren’t impressed. The best witchcraft explanation is that Shakespeare put a curse on the play so that no one, other than him, would be able to direct it correctly.

We are a special kind of people, and we have a lot of myths and legends. It's clear that we definitely believe in superstition, and always have, so it's important to stay educated on them!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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