Erin, my little sister, is a senior at James Madison High School where she has participated in the drama department since her freshman year. Along with the universal ‘Macbeth’ superstitions of the general theater world, her high school’s department has its own set of practices and superstitions surrounding shows and opening night in particular. In preparing for their upcoming spring musical, she shared with me many of the rituals that are an inherent part of Madison’s drama department.
” Well, first of all, there’s no bows before opening night. Like you know at the end of the show people bow in a specific order? You can’t practice that order until the night before ‘cause until then we’re ‘not ready’. But that’s like an everywhere theatre thing – not just Madison. But stuff that’s MadDrama specific? Before every show we have this thing called ‘circle’. We hold pinkies and talk about our feelings. No, no, seriously, we sit in a circle and link pinkies and everyone goes around and shares their memories about preparing for the show and all the time spent together and shit. It’s a lot of telling people they’re the funniest person they’ve ever met, which is cool I guess. After that we pick someone to tell the legend of the old man, which is kind of strange and I can never remember it right, which is why I’m never the one to tell it. After that we pray to St. Genesis, who’s the patron saint of theater. He’s on this little gray pendant that someone always loses and then someone always has to find before showtime. The chanted/shouted phrase is “St. Genesis pray for us, one, two, three FUCKKKK.” It’s sort of a contest who can hold ‘fuck’ out the longest. It’s really nothing to do with St. Genesis, it’s just so if we mess up we don’t curse on stage. Then later during “break a leg” circle which is the lamer, Henderson (drama teacher) sponsored circle we cross our hands right over left and hold hands and send a squeeze pulse through the entire cast for bonding and unity and all those happy things so yeah, you could say drama kids are pretty superstitious.”
I have never participated in a theatrical production, so I can only imagine the buildup and stress that surrounds opening night. I imagine it’s similar to taking finals in college – a whole semester’s worth of preparation for an hour or two where you have to prove that you can do it, or where you fail. Many of the rituals my sister described seem to serve as both a comfortable distraction from the inevitable nervousness and as a manner of building up good vibes between the cast members right before the show. The pinky-circle where everyone shares good memories from all the rehearsals serves as a way to shake nerves by laughing at funny memories, but more importantly the multitude of stories also serve as a reminder that they did rehearse every day for the past couple of months, that they are prepared. The losing and finding of the St. Genesis pendant similarly serves as a distraction: if the cast is too busy hastily searching for the pendant before the curtain rises, they won’t be sitting around worrying about forgetting lines or about missing dance steps. The cursing-contest is probably extremely cathartic for whatever pent-up nerves are still present, and following that with the final hand-squeeze circle replaces those nerves with more happy feelings and excitement.