“Good Luck” v “Break a Leg”

Informant: So, actors are very superstitious. We don’t know why we are, but we are. It’s probably because we spend a lot of time backstage in the dark, and there’s a lot of things that could go wrong. There are things flying over our heads, there’s moving parts and moving people and it’s easy enough to forget a line as it is, let alone when something is falling on you. So, usually it’s bad luck to say “Good luck” to an actor before going onstage, so you say “Break a leg.” I think this originally originated for a couple of reasons. I’ve heard that originally you used to stomp instead of clap, so “break a leg” was like the audience appreciating whatever you did. As well as the legs on the side of the stage – to enter you have to physically break through them, so it was like “have a good entrance…”? And I think there was one more, along the lines of – I don’t know. Every actor you’ll talk to will have a different answer of why we have these rules, which is confusing as to why we have them at all then. But it’s something you start to think about as you’re getting ready, because if someone says “good luck,” you know how the show’s gonna go… I don’t know if that’s because we psych ourselves out or whatever.

My informant is a 20-year-old college student, majoring in theatre, who recently returned from a study-abroad semester in London, England. She’s been doing theatre for twelve years now in various parts of the country, so she’s heard many versions of theatre legends, tales, superstitions, and other pieces of theatre folklore.

I personally don’t believe in this particular theatre superstition. I’ve never had an experience where saying “good luck” actually resulted in bad luck onstage. I’ve found that many people seem to forget it happened if it’s said backstage, whereas no one forgets if you say Macbeth, which is one of the other biggest theatre legends. Out of respect for tradition and those who do believe in this superstition, I try to avoid saying it.