“Good Luck!…Er, Um- Break a Leg!”
We’ve all been there.
We mutter the “GL” words, and hope we haven’t consequently cursed our fellow actor’s entire performance- while maybe receiving the stink eye from our cast mates around us.
But even during the luckiest month of the year, why don’t we say “good luck” onstage? Although its origins are disputed, many beliefs behind “break a leg” may explain where it came from.
- Take your bow! Perhaps one of the most common explanations has to do with curtain call. Every actor loves bowing in front of a standing audience after a spectacular performance. During the times of Shakespearean English “break a leg” was a way to say “take a bow”, being that the legs “break” (or bend) at the knee when curtsying.
- The crowd goes wild! The art of theater originated in Ancient Greece, where the audience used to stomp their feet to applaud after a show. Some believe that the saying originated from the idea that, if the show was good enough, the crowd would stomp so hard that their legs would break! During the Elizabethan era, the audience would show their appreciation by slamming their chairs on the ground. If the chairs hit the floor hard enough, then the chair legs would break- hence, “break a (chair) leg.”
- A Fracture? David Garrick, an 18th century English actor, is known for his performance in Shakespeare’s Richard III. It is claimed that he became so invested in his character during a performance, that he didn’t notice a fracture in his leg! Therefore, “break a leg” may bid that an actor performs as dedicated to the show as Garrick himself.
- Unfortunate circumstances… After assassinating Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, John Wilkes Booth jumped from the balcony theater seats to the stage- breaking his leg as a result. Some assume that, in this sense, “break a leg” means to perform in a memorable way.
- Tongue twisted. In Yiddish, the phrase that means “success and blessing” sounds very similar to the German phrase for “neck and fracture”. With an incident of hard hearing, the sayings may have become confused and the lucky ritual was born.
- Showered with gifts! Although this isn’t common theater etiquette in the current day, impressed audience members used to reward the actors by throwing flowers or coins onto the stage after an amazing performance. “Break a leg” may refer to the actors’ act of bending down to pick up the gifts off of the stage floor.
- Show some strength. Physically breaking a leg is usually the result of ambitious effort. Therefore, “break a leg” may be telling an actor to make a great effort while out on the stage.
- Sweet and simple. Perhaps the only reason actors don’t say “good luck” is because they don’t want to “jinx” the show! Some believe that wishing the opposite of what they hope to happen will cause what they want to happen. (For example, you may wish that you won’t have a snow day, in order to get a snow day.)
Whatever the real reason behind “break a leg”, it’s always a good idea to support your fellow actors and wish them well before a big scene!
Some other lucky theater rituals include:
- Keeping a “ghost light” on in a dark theater, after the show.
- Never saying the word “Macbeth” in the theater.
- Refraining from whistling in the theater.
- Never wearing a peacock feather or blue clothes onstage.
- Never giving an actor a congratulatory gift (including flowers) before the show.
We hope you have an… un-lucky St. Patrick’s Day, Camp Broadway! 😉
Do you know any other good-luck theater routines, or have a lucky routine of your own? Comment them down below!