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Modern Pop-up as Theater; Very Superstitious

POSTED ON: 04/06/17 Modern pop-up

Modern pop-up is quite similar to traditional theater. Both bring like-minded people together. Each captures a unique and transformational moment in time. And neither would exist without good direction and a great story. Also, the creators of both can be highly superstitious. (It can’t just be me.)

Maybe it’s our flair for the dramatic or the thrill of live performance. It could also be the awareness that success or failure is always just a detail away. I do everything possible when producing to guarantee success. That includes observing the appropriate superstitions. Theater has its classics. We creators of modern pop-up should look at these as inspiration to invent a few superstitions of our own.

The Ghost Light

Actors are notoriously aware of the spirits among us; the ghost of Thespis (the first known actor in ancient Greece) wreaks havoc upon theaters all over the world. The ghost light tradition – leaving a single lit bulb upstage center when the theater is empty – wards off this mischievous specter. To keep the ghosts of the theater subdued, it should be empty at least one night a week. (This is traditionally a Monday night, conveniently giving actors a day off after weekend performances.) In a more practical sense, the ghost light allows the stage managers, crewmembers and actors to find the light switch when entering a vacant theater.

No Whistling in the Theater

This seemingly silly rule actually has its roots in safety. In the early days of large-scale stage productions, off-duty sailors served as backstage crews, using their hard-earned rigging skills to manipulate the sets and curtains. Just as they would on a large sea vessel, the crews communicated with each other through a series of coded whistles. This meant that an oblivious actor strolling across the stage while whistling a tune could (inadvertently) prompt a stagehand to lower a light or set piece onto his poor unassuming head.

“Break a leg!”

Well-wishers should always replace the phrase “good luck” with its theatrical substitute “break a leg.” The saying has a variety of possible origins. It may come from the ancient Greek practice of stomping feet instead of applauding, the Elizabethan term for bowing (to break the leg) or the Vaudevillian practice of keeping actors just barely offstage (to break the leg of the curtain was to enter the playing space, and thus, get paid).

Don’t Say “Macbeth.”

This has long been part of the actor’s folklore, and there are dozens of theories about when, where and why performers started avoiding the play’s title. They instead refer to the drama as “The Scottish Play.” The History Channel cites several instances of mysterious and sudden deaths during performances of “Macbeth,” suggesting a curse that dates back to the 17th century. Some believe that the play’s fictional incantation – “Double, double toil and trouble…” – is authentic witchcraft. Should an actor slip and say the deadly phrase, there is an antidote: Exit the theater, spin three times, spit and utter a Shakespearean insult (or an equally vulgar profanity).

Don’t Wear Blue

This traditional superstition is rarely observed in modern times, but it has practical roots in early theatrical costuming. Blue dye cost more than any other. Failing theater companies showcased blue garments on stage to trick the audience into thinking the producers were affluent. How to combat this indigo stigma? Add something silver to “prove” your wealth, and counter-balance the bad-luck-bearing shade.

No Peacock Feathers, Mirrors, Real Money or Real Jewelry on Stage

These banned items cause forgotten lines, broken set pieces and other live-performance disasters. The “evil eye” of the peacock feather is blamed for cursing numerous productions. Mirrors bring bad luck because they interfere with the lighting. As for real money and jewelry? These were originally discouraged in an attempt to prevent prop-table thievery.

Tell me your most effective modern pop-up superstitions; I’ll share them in a future blog post!

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