Folk Beliefs
Protection

Theatre Superstition

Main Piece: Theatre Superstition

 

The reason behind “break a leg”

 

My brother is a theatre major, and over the last semester he performed in a couple plays and when we’d go to see him, my mom would always tell him to “break a leg” and I never knew why that was said so I asked him.

 

“It is a common thing in theatre to say break a leg as a good luck omen because back in the day in Germany when the applause would come, the audience would stomp their feet. The idea behind ‘break a leg’ is to have such a good performance that the audience would applaud so hard and stomp so hard they would literally break their legs.”

 

Background:

 

My brother Ty had been involved in theatre during his middle school years and didn’t do much else until he got to college. He picked up on this tradition through being around the theatre and other actors. This is a pretty commonly known saying, but he also did not know the meaning behind it until he began acting in productions.

Ty likes this tradition because everyone kind of just says it as a thing you do when you are wishing an actor or actress good luck, but no one really knows why or where it came from. Ty is the kind of guy who finds out a fact and wants to make sure everyone he can tell knows it, so almost every time someone close to him tells him to break a leg, he asks if they know why it is said.

 

Context:

 

My brother told me this when I went to one of his plays during the spring and I wished him good luck and told him to break a leg. He asked me if I knew why I said it and being his brother I responded with some sarcastic comment like “I actually just want you to break your leg while you’re on stage,” and he proceeded to tell me the meaning behind it.

Since every actor knows of this saying and almost all theatre goers know it, it is thrown around very often at a production, and is even used outside of theatre to wish good luck in general whether it be in sports or giving a speech. Of course it does not have the same meaning when used outside of a theatre context, but it has become just a universal saying for “good luck” in whatever activity is taking place.

 

My thoughts:

 

I’ve known about this saying for as long as I can remember, with it being used in TV shows and when I would go to see my brother perform in middle school and even when I was involved in the 6th grade play at my elementary school. Once I found out the origin of the saying I had a new appreciation for it, because I had all these far out explanations in my head as to why it was said, anywhere from an actor in history who was so into his character he broke his leg on stage to it being traditional that the new actor would be scared with this saying thinking “why do they want me to break a leg?”

I use this saying with basically every event that could condone telling someone good luck before they partake, even my roommates going to take a test or if they have an interview. I probably won’t use it as much now knowing the meaning behind it, but I will definitely whip out that fact next time I find myself at a play.

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