They’re a superstitious bunch and a select few scary shows


I love the theatre world, and the colourful and fun characters that inhabit it. BUT one gripe I have is the excessive and over the top superstition theatre folk have. I suppose part of it is no different to any group of people who have their own traditions and words and rituals that identify you as part of their group. However you can’t seem to do anything in a theatre without someone saying “don’t do that, it’s bad luck”.

Very superstitious…..

The most common superstitions that I know and have experienced are:

  1. Not saying Macbeth. Apparently it’s a cursed play, but I think the fact it’s still being performed puts pay to that one.
  2. Leaving a light on stage even when the theatre is dark (shut). Not superstitious just common sense, theatres are dangerous places and walking in to a pitch black theatre with props, ropes, weights, orchestra pits and trap doors is not a good idea. This tradition (allegedly to help the theatres ghosts see where they’re going) is proof that the theatrical world was well ahead of our current obsession with Health and Safety.
  3. Never saying “good luck.” Saying “break a leg”, is still as popular as ever. The reason for this saying is shrouded in mystery and I’ve heard all sorts; from Abraham Lincoln’s assassin breaking his leg on his escape (thanks for that explanation Saskia!), to breaking the line of your body/leg as you bow, to my favourite which is that the actors should need to bow/curtsey so much at the end of the show they will break their legs.
  4. Every theatre having a ghost. When I performed at the Jermyn Street Theatre, I recall a VERY creepy sound akin to wailing in my dressing room. I asked the Stage Manager about it and they matter of factly said, “oh that’s just the ghost – don’t worry they’re a friendly ghost.” I assume he’s called Casper then?

As it is Halloween today, should any of you fancy a theatrical fright here are my recommendations:

Phantom – spooky, stylish and spectacular

Top of the list is The Phantom of the Opera, playing all over the world, and a thrilling musical with a few scenes that’ll make you jump. There is a scene where a backdrop crashes to the floor (it’s meant to) and I was recently speaking to an actress that had played Christine and she spoke about how one night it came crashing down on her. She was quite badly injured but lived to tell the tale and resume her career on stage thankfully.


This play is still scaring audiences every night in London, and the recent film version has taken the spine tingling story to many more. I still think the theatrical experience can be more scary though.

The above production of The Picture of Dorian Gray, is getting rave reviews, I read Act 1 this morning and think it’s a great adaptation (I’ll read Act 2 tomorrow). I’d like to get over to Dublin to see it but don’t think I’m going to get a chance to. Let’s hope it comes to London soon.

Finally if you are in Moscow you can catch Ghost Stories as it opened there the other week. An homage to the whole horror genre and certainly contains its moments to make you jump.

Have a happy Halloween – break a leg 🙂


11 thoughts on “They’re a superstitious bunch and a select few scary shows

  1. A scary night ahead at the theatre here for Halloween in Melbourne, but not for the traditional reasons. It’s the world premiere of a “new musical” (I think they’re using pre-existing songs) called “More Sex Please…We’re Seniors” !!!

  2. Don’t forget, you should also never whistle in a theatre (apparently). This is because years and years ago, a majority of stage crews used to be sailors on leave, working to get extra money. Also pretty clever as they were pretty handy with ropes, and before hydraulics all sets had to be released manually. They communicated to each other by whistling, just like they would on ships. If a member of the cast whistled, this could mean a piece of scenery landing on your head when you didn’t want it to.
    No idea why this superstition exists now though. There are no sailors, and hardly any ropes….

  3. Hi Dominic You missed not whistling on stage. This used to cue the flymen if you mistakenly whistled on stage a piece of scenery could fall on you,
    If you mention the Scottish Play (you see I cannot say it) you had to spit and turn rond three times.

  4. Hi Tony and Hannah,

    yep the whistling is another fave – my view on that is you shouldn’t whistle in wings or backstage, as it is impolite to be causing a noise there, but whistling in green room or dressing room is fine and dandy.

    So you don’t ever say Macbeth Tony?

  5. It’s interesting to see the differences with the french superstitions. As far as I know, there’s no haunted theatre in France – except for the phantom of the opera who died long ago if he ever existed, as Gaston Leroux claimed it.
    You cannot say “Macbeth” ? What do you say then ?

  6. Break a Leg – the tale I’ve heard (and there seems to be several, so this may not be any more true than any of the others) was that before technology, curtains would be on a winch – obviously a lot of winding to get the curtain up to the top, but to achieve the fast drop at the end of a show, you let the winch fly and if the ‘leg’ snapped off, that was seen to be good luck. I can’t imagine why, seeing as the curtain would be stuck in the down position and they’d need to fix the winch……

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