“Before a show we would go outside of the theater – literally outside of the building. This was in high school. We would stand in a circle and do pass the squeeze. Stand in a circle and squeeze hands one at a time. Then, we would all run in the middle and say “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe as a chant, but it changed based on the show we were in. We would insert the show name in there somewhere. And then the boys and girls would split up, so I don’t really know what the boys did – I think it would get pretty rough. The girls would stand on a little raised curb and hold hands and sing a verse from “Bye Bye Birdie” really loud. Then we would all go back in the circle and you would say ‘got your back’ to people as you walked into the theater and tap them on the back.”
This was the pre-show ritual for a public high school’s theater program in Calabasas, CA. The informant said it was a “tradition there for as long as I ever knew, and this would have been between 2014 and 2016.”
The informant is 21, from Calabasas, and an actor!
The separation by gender in the high school theater ritual seems to be a trope. I believe this is related to the age of the performers and the ‘otherness’ placed upon the opposite sex by society in that age of physical development. The boys moshing is another trope I’ve seen in these contexts, perhaps the males feel a need to exert their stereotypical “manhood” by becoming violent before they perform a socialized as “femme” extra curricular activity, theater. The girls also perform their gender by standing on a higher platform, perhaps symbolizing being above violence, and singing while holding hands. This performance of peaceful sweetness paints the picture of stereotypical femininity.
Choosing to say “got your back” is a safe theatrical well wishing before a show as “good luck” is considered bad luck. “Break a Leg” or “Merde”, the French word for shit used to mean good luck, are violent and gross, making them potentially inappropriate for high school kids. Therefore, the invented “got your back” makes a sweet substitute. Finally, choosing to chant “The Raven”, while dark, also gives what they are about to do an air of sacredness due to its fame and fear it instills.