Thursday, September 16, 2010

Superstition: Saying Macbeth in a theatre

As a theatre person myself I am very familiar with the superstition of saying the name Macbeth inside of a theatre. Almost all theatre artists I know adhere to this religiously. In fact, almost psychotically. If you do it as a joke, just to eff around with an actor or director or even the lighting board op, they will completely flip out. It's like talking about a bomb at an airport. No matter how much of a douche bag you are jokingly mocking other people's traditions, doing either one of those things will get you in a heap of trouble. This is serious business. I know because i was one such douche one time who got chewed out royally by every one involved. I challenged it because i think it is stupid and despite creating an entire haunted house about superstitions, i am not very superstitious myself.

You see, as the legend goes, you say the name Macbeth inside a theater it will bring bad luck to the play and anyone acting in it. The only exception is when the word is spoken as a line in the play. And if any of you are friends with an actor or are an actor yourselves, you know how delicate their careers are, hanging on a limb pretty much all of the time, so they don't need any extra roadblocks like 400 year old curses. But there is a way out in case you accidentally do say the name of the play. And everyone around you will make sure you do this. In order to reverse the bad luck, the person who uttered the word must exit the theater, spin around three times saying a profanity, and then ask for permission to return inside. Other variations include spitting over your shoulders or simply letting out a stream of cuss words. I have even heard by some (very few people actually) that you can also say "Thrice around the circle bound, Evil sink into the ground" to release the bad luck. The best way to avoid it altogether is to get comfortable with calling the play "The Scottish Play" instead of the proper title. You may have heard this before. This is what people are talking about when they do that. LAME, but completely real to any actor, with some serious consequences. You will embark on those consequences yourself in Nightmare: Superstitions.

So where does this superstition come from? Well, apparently the play was originally written for King James and his court. James was obsessed with the occult and had written several pamphlets about how to detect a witch. So as a nod to the King Shakespeare wrote in the three witches who foresee the fall of Macbeth, including a sacred black magic ritual. At the time it was supposed to be somewhat funny and an homage to the King's obsession. However, true followers of the religion took the reenactment of the ritual to be a complete affront drawing their ire and having them curse the play in perpetuity. To give you an example, it would be like, say, if some crazy Christian fundamentalist decided to do a Quran book burning, pissing off a whole section of the population. Of course no one would do something so stupid nowadays.


anthony0358 said...

holy cow I had no clue about this
very cool

Jimmy Sweet said...

The dilemma thespians face is that, if they drop adherence to the superstition, too many contemptible outsiders might start to take an interest in theatre. And if they shirk the taboo and it turns out to be real (okay, so *imagine* you have all the critical-thinking prowess of King James) then something unexpected might happen onstage and we canNOT have that!