As you probably know theatre people say “Break a leg” when they want to wish you good luck before a performance. Funny sort of good luck I always think – more like bad luck! As if you are the understudy and want a chance to play the part.
Supposedly though the expression goes back hundreds of years to the time of Shakespeare when breaking your leg had a different kind of meaning in the theatre. In those days if you performed well and the audience showed their approval instead of bowing back you bent your knees (a bit like a curtsey) to acknowledge the audience. So, hoping you broke your leg meant wishing you lots of applause.
The theatre has so many old traditions. You may have heard that it is bad luck to say “Macbeth” as it brings bad luck. Instead, actors call it the” Scottish Play” and if you do utter the word in the theatre, you are immediately asked to turn round three times, go outside, spit and ask to re-enter. We don’t know where these superstitions come from. Some say that witches put a curse on the play and that it had a history of bad luck right back to the play’s first performance. Allegedly the actor playing Lady Macbeth (who would have been a boy) died and Shakespeare had to take over the part. How can we check that one out?
Whistling has also meant bad luck in the theatre but at least there is a more rational explanation. In Victorian times most of the sets were backdrops hauled up and down in the fly tower on ropes and sailors were often recruited for this job. They in turn used ships’ whistles to communicate upstairs to the “flymen” so you can see why whistling might bring half a ton of scenery on your head. In these more safety-aware days you have to wear a hard hat backstage when a theatre is in rehearsal. Not that it would help much with falling scenery!
So, I come back to breaking legs and I wish all those pupils who have recently returned to Theatretrain classes many “broken” legs (in the best sense) and I don’tmind if you whistle as I like working with happy people and we don’t have heavy scenery hanging above you. Be careful with the Scottish play though – we don’twant to chance our luck, do we?
Since 1992 Theatretrain students have been taking bows at venues such as the London Palladium, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the Royal Albert Hall. Our theatre schools across the United Kingdom have been providing young people with top quality part-time performing arts classes at weekends for almost 30 years. Without the cost of attending an expensive full-time stage school, Theatretrain is an excellent place to start your career in the performing arts. For further information about our weekly lessons in acting, singing, and dancing visit www.theatretrain.co.uk.