Meanwhile...Our Online Magazine
This is the 13th issue of Meanwhile, so we thought it appropriate to focus on theatrical superstitions.
Theatre people are famously superstitious. One can’t really blame them because superstitions are born when people feel they don’t have control of their own destinies. In the theatre there is a long list of what you should never do to court good luck and what you should always do to avoid failure. In the Archives column this week, some of these superstitions are revealed.
But the biggest superstition is the belief in theatre ghosts. Most old theatres are said to be haunted. We explore this theme in a new six-part biweekly series called Ghosts of the Royal Alex. Every second week there will be a new song and a new chapter in a serialized story.
We hope we entertain you in song and story while offering some insights into the theatre world. Make sure to watch the new music video that launches this series and read the first chapter of the story (also available as a podcast).
SnL (short for Steffi and Lisa, the two exuberant hosts of Check In From Away) go backstage and check in with a producer, fight director, stage manager, casting director and wardrobe head.
The Royal Alex is the most famous haunted theatre in the country. Don’t worry, the ghosts are all gentle souls, mostly performers who loved the theatre so much that they decided to make it their spiritual home.
That is, if you believe in ghosts. You do, don’t you?
Or maybe you are sceptical, like the protagonist of the story in our new biweekly series, Ghosts of the Royal Alex.
Every second week, for your entertainment pleasure, we will publish a new chapter of a story that takes place backstage at the Royal Alex and deals with its ghosts. Each chapter will be available in written form and as a podcast, read by producer and actor David Mucci, who also happens to hold the record for the most performances on the Royal Alex stage (Cyrano de Bergerac, 1984; Les Misérables, 1989-1990; Buddy, 1990; Man of La Mancha, 1993; Crazy for You, 1993-1995; Mamma Mia!, 2000-2003).
At the same time, we will release a music video of a new song in a six-song cycle written exclusively for Meanwhile by Ron Jacobson, whose work you’ve already enjoyed in previous issues of Meanwhile. Each of these songs will also explore the ghosts of the theatre.
The debut song this week is performed by Steffi DiDomenicantonio (known to friends as Steffi D; she plays Janice, the young Rogers TV reporter in Come From Away and is, of course, one of the hosts of our weekly video chat show, Check In from Away). The video was directed and produced by Tristan Gough.
The story is by John Karastamatis … and by you. Yes, you, our readers, because with each new chapter we will ask you for suggestions for what should happen in the next chapter. John has come up with the concept and the main characters; you help decide where the story will go next. If we use your suggestion, we will credit you in the chapter and also send you a $100 Mirvish gift card. Email your suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for Chapter Two suggestions is Friday July 10.
CHECK IN FROM AWAY
SnL explore the world that the audience never sees – they take you backstage. They speak with Sue Frost, one of the lead producers of Come From Away; Stephanie Gorin, the famous casting director we profiled a few issues ago; Joe Bostick, the busy fight director for many plays and films; Jenny Fraser, the wardrobe supervisor who has worked on almost all the big shows on Toronto stages; and Lisa Humber, who is not only the “L” in SnL but also one of Toronto’s best stage managers. Each of these “backstage” people talk about their work, reveal some backstage secrets and even demonstrate how to safely (meaning, pretend to) have your head banged against a wall and how to make a face mask.
Archives - Theatre Superstitions
Whistling backstage equals death. If you say the title of the Scottish play you’re doomed. You can’t use the number 13 without courting bad luck. If you wish someone a good performance, you’ve condemned them to a terrible one.
Superstitions have always been part of theatrical life.
Humans resort to superstition when they feel they don’t have control over their own destinies. They attribute magic powers to certain actions and properties. All art is a form of alchemy. Nobody really knows why artists do what they do; nobody can explain the creative process and why it sometimes produces brilliant work and other times not. It just is what it is – to use an expression that is often said to be nonsensical but in fact is a truism of what cannot be controlled.
Theatre is a collaborative art form, which adds another layer of mystery to its creation and another element that can’t be controlled. As a result, theatre has more superstitions and rituals than other art forms. (Sports is another human activity that is also rife with superstitions – the lucky jersey, the rituals practiced before a game to guarantee a win, etc.)
Here are some of the superstitions theatre people adhere to:
- Never say the last line of a play in a final rehearsal without an audience, otherwise the show will be a failure. One way around this is to invite friends and family to the final dress rehearsal, which is what all shows do.
- Never say “good luck” to an actor before a performance, especially before opening night. Instead say “break a leg,” which sounds like an awful thing to wish on anybody. But in theatre, it is believed that you don’t tempt the spirits with positive ideas; instead you confuse the spirits with negative wishes. Another more practical explanation dates back to Elizabethan times when “break” meant “bend”; so to break a leg meant to take a bow.
- Never whistle backstage. This one was also created for a practical reason. All backstage rigging of scenery was originally based on the principles of sailing. In fact, the stage crew was once made up of ex-sailors who would communicate with each other during a performance by whistles (which is what they also did when they were sailing). They would whistle to signal the lifting or lowering of heavy scenery. So, if someone whistled for no reason, it may have caused the inadvertent movement of scenery which would not only result in ruining the playing of the show but may have also caused physical injury to actors onstage.
- Never say the title of the “Scottish play” in a theatre or quote anything from it. If someone mistakenly does this, the cure is: they must immediately say “Angels and ministers of grace defend us,” then leave the theatre, turn around three times counter-clockwise and then knock to be readmitted. Where and how did this superstition begin? Probably from the very first performances of the play and most likely because it begins with witches’ incantations. Also, because the play demands dim lighting, smoke, swords and other properties that may cause harm, performances through the ages may have been prone to serious accidents.
- Never use real flowers, mirrors, or jewelry on stage or bad luck will come.
- Never allow visitors backstage during dress rehearsals.
- Never wear blue or yellow or else the actors will forget their lines.
- Never use new makeup on opening night.
- Never clean your makeup box, otherwise you’ll never have another acting job.
- Never open a show on a Friday night.
- On opening night say “merde” or “shit” – again, to confuse the sprits who may otherwise decide to punish your vanity and self-confidence.
The theatres may be closed, but you can still get your stage fix online. Here's the latest roundup of shows you can watch right now!
THE PUBLIC THEATER
The Public Theater in New York has been one of the most active companies in virtual theatre offerings. Right now they have:
Latin History for Morons
This film-capture of the acclaimed one-man Broadway show which originally began at the Public, is written by and stars John Leguizamo. He finds humour and heartbreak as he traces 3,000 years of Latin history in an effort to help his bullied son. Now streaming on Netflix. (Subscription fee necessary.) You can watch the official trailer here.
This is a new play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen created in the award-winning documentary style of The Exonerated. Crafted from first-hand interviews with New York City medical first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Line cuts through the media and political noise to reveal the lived experiences of frontline medical workers in New York and their battle to save lives in a system built to serve the bottom line. Begins streaming on The Public Theater’s YouTube channel on July 8 at 7:30 PM and will be available free until August 4. https://publictheater.org/productions/season/1920/the-line/
The Apple Family Plays Series
The Apple Family, a dramatic four-part series of plays by Richard Nelson which first appeared ten years ago at The Public Theater and were centred on a national event in recent American history. The series returned with a fifth play written especially for Zoom, What Do We Need to Talk About? which Vogue described as “it’s almost like you are watching a new art form being born.”
Now a second Zoom play, And So We Come Forth is set in early July, 2020, amidst massive protests over the murder of George Floyd and against racism in America, as well as the anxious easing of a worldwide lockdown. Over a family dinner, and over Zoom, the Apples talk about their fears and hopes, who they are, what has been lost, and where they now belong in a world that keeps becoming more and more uncertain.
“In troubled and troubling times, theater has not only an opportunity, but the responsibility, to portray the confusion and articulate the ambiguities, doubts, and fears of its time. The goal then being not to argue a side or a point, but to attempt to portray people and worlds as they are, not as we wish them to be. Theater, to my mind, is not an argument, but an effort to create and portray human complexity, which we then share with a living audience, human being to human being.” Playwright and Director Richard Nelson
Watch this to see great writing and acting about of-the-moment issues and to witness the birth of a new art form – theatre via Zoom. Screening now for eight weeks on https://www.theapplefamilyplays.com/ Free, but donations accepted to support the Actors Fund USA.
THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF GREAT BRITAIN
The National continues its free streaming of their productions. This week’s show is especially noteworthy as the video has never been shown before.
Les Blancs (The Whites) is the final work by Lorraine Hansberry (the writer of Raisin in the Sun whose life was cut short by cancer). This brave, illuminating and powerful play that confronts the hope and tragedy of revolution was never produced during the writer’s life.
The title is a reference to Jean Genet's play The Blacks: A Clown Show. The play is about the experience of settlers, natives, and one American journalist in an unnamed African country in the waning days of colonial control.
As an African country teeters on the edge of civil war, its society prepares to drive out their colonial present and claim an independent future. Yaël Farber directs a cast featuring Siân Phillips and Danny Sapani.
This National production was staged in 2016.
Head to the YouTube playlist before the stream to watch Ola Animashawun from the National, join director Dawn Walton and producer Tobi Kyeremateng to discuss the role of trauma in the play. Streaming now until July 9. Free, but donations accepted to support the National Theatre. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJgBmjHpqgs4-ZYGgTryZPWTlhn8i6dNy
STRATFORD FESTIVAL ON FILM / THE BEST OF SHAKESPEARE
The steamy story of a midlife affair that shook the foundations of the ancient world comes to vivid life in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4MIAmP7PQ0&feature=youtu.be
SIR PATRICK STEWART'S DAILY SONNETS
Sir Patrick Stewart is giving us all a daily boost. The seasoned Shakespearean is reading a different sonnet every day and broadcasting it on his Twitter page.
THE TORONTO FRINGE
Because of Covid, the beloved Toronto Fringe Festival is not on this year. But you can still “fringe” by watching the Fringe Collective online. It features 50+ companies that were slated to present work at the 2020 Toronto Fringe Festival. They have created unique, pre-recorded video, audio, written, and interactive content that will keep the Fringe spirit alive. Now streaming until July 12. Tip-what-you-can. https://fringetoronto.com/collective/act-3
SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES: A CELEBRATION FOR THE FILM & TV MUSIC COMMUNITY
These are the people whose scores and songs transport, inspire, uplift and get us through some of the hardest challenges by creating the soundtracks of our lives. Watch this benefit for the film and tv community - MusiCares® COVID-19 Relief Fund. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kpD-Egj8_8&t=1803s
OFFICIAL LONDON THEATRE
A virtual collection of performances, Q & A’s and more! Visit the YouTube channel