The Ides of March and Other Things to Beware in the Theater

Vincenzo Camuccini, "Morte di Cesare", 1798,

If you’ve been the subject of any prophesies of doom lately, I hope you’ve been watching your back today. Even if you’re not really into the whole prophesy-of-doom thing, you may want to take a little caution today as it is, after all,  the Ides of March. Laugh if you will, but just look what happened to Julius Caesar.

In all seriousness, I’ve never met anyone who was (openly) concerned about their safety on March 15th, even among people in theater, who are famously some of the most superstitious people out there. On the other hand, I know plenty of people (several at Undermain) who avoid saying the name of Shakespeare’s Scottish play inside a theater and cautiously eschew “good luck” in favor of “break a leg” for all pre-show wishes.

In addition to these practices, dozens of superstitions have haunted the theater throughout the years.  Some of them still live on. Here are a few:

1. It is unlucky to light candles in threes onstage and backstage. The person standing closest to the shortest candle will either be the first to die or to marry.

2. It is good luck to have a cat in the theater. (I’m sure Mr. Midnight fans were aware of this one. We miss our little good luck charm!)

3. It is unlucky to allow a yellow clarinet in the orchestra. (You got me on this one. I still have no idea why.)

4. Never run a show every night of the week. This is because one should always allow the theater ghost one night alone on the stage every week. (And you thought it was because the actors needed a day off.)

5. Some say an actor will forget his lines if he wears yellow. Others say wearing green onstage is bad luck. On top of all that, an actor shouldn’t wear blue, and no one is allowed to wear purple to an Italian Opera. All I can say is, it would be pretty tough to be a superstitious costume designer.

6. Other things that have been banned from the stage: real flowers, real jewelry, real money, and peacock feathers. The expense and impracticality of using the real deal onstage is probably the reason for most of these superstitions. As for peacock feathers, they have the evil eye.

7. It is bad luck to leave shoes and hats on the chairs and tables backstage.

8. Some people leave on a “ghost light” to ward away spirits. Others do it so that the last person to leave doesn’t fall on his face. Either way, it seems like a good idea to me.

[Colleen Ahern]