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Superstitions in the Theatre


4) Ghost Light 

As one can see, the ghosts and sprits in theater are very much alive. Tradition states to have a ghost light in the theater to comfort the ghosts and keep them at peace. The ghost light is usually a plain light bulb on a lamp stand with no lampshade, placed down center stage. It also has practical function; one can enter a theater without stumbling to a light switch in the darkness.

Not believable?  We have our very own ghost lights in the Emerson/Paramount Mainstage theater and the Emerson/Cutler Majestic theater!

5) Macbeth 

No list of theater superstitions would be complete without mention of… shhh… the play that must not be named!

Macbe — excuse me — The Scottish Play, has been cursed since Shakespeare’s day. According to one theory, this is because Shakespeare used real witch chants in his writing. The witches, unimpressed, put a curse on the play. Another theory is that Shakespeare put a curse on the show, making it very hard to direct. Yet another, more practical theory is that the production would be blamed for its failure to save theatre companies in financial turmoil, many of which would stage the production in the hopes of raising ticket revenues.  Also, the play calls for a lot of stage combat and very low lighting, resulting in a lot of injuries.

Whatever the reason for the curse, here are the famous casualties of it:

  1. During the premiere of the show in Shakespeare’s day, the boy who played Lady Macbeth got sick and died back stage. This caused Shakespeare himself having to go on and play the role.
  2. In 1672, the actor playing Macbeth accidentally took a real dagger on stage and killed Duncan in front of a live audience.
  3. In 1936, Orson Welles staged the production with a real voodoo doctor. The run got a scathing review from a critic named Percy Hammond, who died within weeks.
  4. In Stratford in 1953, Charlton Heston suffered severe burns and almost died after his tights caught on fire during a performance.
  5. In 2013, Kenneth Branagh accidentally hit an actor during a battle scene in a London production; the actor had to go to the hospital after the performance.

Perhaps it is this long history of superstitions and…coincidences…that have informed our inclination to infuse our works of theatre with images and themes of spirits, magic and the occult. Whatever the explanation, it sure does make for a magical night in the theatre. See you in the mysterious forest!



A Midsummer Night’s Dream will play at the Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre  from March 6-15, 2014. For more information and tickets, visit our website here.

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