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Very Superstitious

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Given the number of things that can go wrong with a production, it’s no wonder that performers are a superstitious bunch. There are just some things you don’t do. Whistle backstage? Never. Wish a co-star “good luck?” How dare you! And, definitely don’t bring a peacock feather inside the theater. We’ll dive into the world of ritual and superstition with Time Out New York theater editor David Cote. And, hear the how and why of our superstitious minds with psychologist Stuart Vyse

Plus, we want to know: do you have performance-related rituals or superstitions? Weigh in!


David Cote and Stuart Vyse

Comments [14]


As for "Tuiy, Tuiy, Tuiy" used as a way of wishing luck to a performer, the origin is Eastern-European, I believe, like "Pooh, Pooh, Pooh," a phrase I have often heard. These onomatopoeia describe a spitting sound. Spitting three times was supposed to ward off the evil eye.

Mar. 29 2012 10:39 PM
Edward from NJ

@kevin from upstate, My imagination would agree with yours: "I can't say good luck? Well fine then, break a leg!"

All of the proposed etymologies strike me as "too cute" and undermining of the humor of the phrase.

Mar. 29 2012 02:48 PM
kevin from upstate

I always thought if saying "good luck" was bad luck, then you should say the worst possible thing that could happen, which is trip, fall, and break your leg while on stage. This is of course not informed by anything other than my imagination.

Mar. 29 2012 02:30 PM
Frank from Albany

Actors are superstitious due to the critics. Theatres are home to many ghosts and creatures. Here is an ineresting one:

Never rehearse the last line of a play (or musical), or the show will be a disastrous flop. Alternately, never finish a performance of a show without an audience in attendance, or it brings bad luck and the show will fail.

Mar. 29 2012 02:28 PM

the peacock feathers thing probably comes from the "eye" on the tip of the peacock feather being symbolic of an evil or watchful eye.

Remember the Greek myth of the watchful guard with the 99 eyes - who was turned into a peacock?

Mar. 29 2012 02:24 PM
Marsha Andrews from UWS

Crepi il lupo means "croak the wolf" or may the wolf die!

Mar. 29 2012 02:21 PM
Susana MacLean from Westfield, NJ

"Break a leg" originated from "brake a leg" in Shakesperean times. The stage was tilted downward from back stage toward the audience. See the Globe Theater reconstructed in London. Actors told one another to brake their forward leg so as not to tumble down off the stage. If you see a play at the Globe you'll notice that all the actors do, indeed, brake a leg while on stage.

Mar. 29 2012 02:20 PM
Barry from Edison, NJ

This is fascinating. I never heard of some of these superstitions. This is part of so many cultures. My mother was overly superstitious. She would spit three times so the evil eye would not fall upon her family especially her children.
Great Topic

Mar. 29 2012 02:20 PM
Marsha Andrews from UWS

Opera Singers often say "In bocca al lupo" (in the mouth of the wolf) but you must respond: "Crepi il lupo" (kill the wolf) or it's bad luck. Spelling might be wrong.

Mar. 29 2012 02:18 PM
John Huntington from Brooklyn, NY

Teller (from Penn and Teller) specifically and intentionally violated every theate superstition when he did his excellent production of Macbeth:

"Teller was having none of that for his “Macbeth,” as well as taking the time to violate any other old theater superstition he could find: “On the night before we opened, I gathered everyone together and got them to go ‘good luck,’ ‘Macbeth’ and whistle in chorus. Another superstition is you must not have a peacock feather backstage. And my good partner Penn sent a bouquet of 50 peacock feathers, and every member of the cast and crew got one.”

Mar. 29 2012 02:14 PM
John in Bergen from Glen Rock

I spoke with Met Opera Tenor Dimitri Pittas (born & bred NYer) currently plays Macduff. He told me that he is aware of the curse. He does not say MACBETH while at the MET. He calls it the Scottish Opera. Elsewhere he says Macbeth. We spoke on 3/18 when he sang at a concert in NJ

Mar. 29 2012 02:12 PM
Rah from Manhattan

I was in the audience of the off-bway preview of the play "Scattergood" starring Brian Murray a couple of years ago.

I had just had a new photo taken, and I told my partner that it "made me look like Lady Macbeth".

Realizing my error, fear overtook me. My partner laughed it off.

Sure enough, 3/4 of the way through the performance, there was a crash. Everything stopped. Mr. Murray had fallen backstage. No serious injury, but still...
I'll never utter that word again in a theater.

Mar. 29 2012 02:06 PM
David from West Hempstead

You never say "Good Luck" because Liam Neeson in Taken has made the phrase threatening beyond rehabilitation.

Mar. 29 2012 02:01 PM

baseball players [i know off topic,but they perform RT?]are especially superstitious among athletes. i think there is lot of cultural specificity to this. the latino bump, in MLB, added to a sport, which already has a long history of lore, symbolism, and poetic romance. so, to bring it back to performers,i know that latin musicians and performers[or spanish speaking,if you will],are often incredibly superstitious. some, might see that as primitive,i'd say,it probably is. however,it it entirely bad? i guess, that depends on the degree of involvement, and the specific individual;and, how they reconcile that belief,to modern society.

Mar. 29 2012 01:20 PM

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