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Mamie Meek

A good time to explore some superstitions of our craft
by Mamie Meek

November 2002

Are actors superstitious?

Well, maybe. Maybe not. But, just in case, don't say "Good Luck!" If you wish good luck to someone else, it supposedly will leave you! Instead, actors commonly say, "Break a leg!" or "Knock 'em dead!"

Okay, it seems actors might be among the most superstitious people in the world. Many of our kind abide almost religiously by certain rules that are declared to ensure kind treatment from the Fates. The following are some of the more interesting "unwritten laws" of the theater. Some of these superstitions we can recognize as carrying over to our on-camera work as well.

Don't whistle in the dressing room. It is considered bad luck to whistle in the dressing room or backstage. The reason goes back a couple of hundred years when backstage crewmembers were often recruited from the navy. The sailors were good at handling the ropes used to raise and lower the scenery. The director often would whistle for scene changes. Any actor whistling backstage might inadvertently cause a scene change.

If an actress receives flowers as a present, she may wear them before or after the performance, but considers it to be very unlucky to wear them when she is actually on the stage. Artificial ones are generally used instead.

Don't quote the Scottish play. The play "Macbeth" is considered the unluckiest play in theater. It is such bad luck that actors don't like to mention the title. They refer to it as "The Scottish Play" or "Mr. and Mrs. M" or "That Play."

Don't wear green onstage. This idea could date back to when actors performed outdoors on the green grass. Actors wearing green may not be seen very well. Another idea comes from the fact that green light was often used to illuminate characters. This "limelight" would make anyone wearing green appear practically invisible.

No real flowers, real money, real jewelry, real mirrors, or real food. Fake items are usually easier to work with and look better from a distance anyway.

Save the tag line. When rehearsing a play, the actors ensure they are perfect in every line except the last one, or tag, as it is called. This is never uttered until the first night of the actual performance, when the success of the production is ascertained by the extent of the applause that follows the last line.

There are many more. However, I need to meditate so that I am able to bring my Muse into the moment.

By the way, if you notice a loose thread clinging to a person's clothes, pluck off the thread and pass it three times around the person's head. Then, tuck the thread down the neck of your own clothing. This foretells a new contract and the magical rite is said to ensure the receipt of the contract. Break a leg!

Mamie Meek began her work in the theater and pursues the Muse as a film actor and screenwriter.

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