Tag Archives: actors

Bleeding on a costume is good luck for the actor

Interview and Context

CS: It’s just a saying. And I think its partially because there’s nothing you can do about it, and it’s a way of sort of justifying and making yourself feeling better that one: you may have hurt yourself, and two: that you may have, like, made a stain on a costume that you may or may not be able to remove as well as you would like?
Interviewer: So as far as you know its less of a superstition and more of a justification
CS: Ya. Hahaha.
Interviewer: When’s the first time you heard that?
CS: Probably the first time that I , probably when I was in college and… I don’t think, I don’t think I ever heard that outside of theater. I think I heard of it mostly, you know, like— it’s something I thought about, like, I’m sure I must have poked myself and may have bled on a garment when I was learning to sew like in home ec, as a teenager, but I don’t think that I heard of it more that, at a costume shop, that it’s good luck for the actor, y’know.
Interviewer: Good luck for the actor, bad luck for you.
CS: Right? Ya.
Interviewer: Any idea how long it’s been around? I know you said you he
HS: I have a feeling that this one is, a long time. I just have that feeling.
CS: Because people have been probably bleeding on costumes since costumes have been made.


The first time the informant told me this proverb was when another worker poked themself with a needle while mending a costume. I later asked the informant to repeat the saying and their explanation for the sake of recording it.
This is an example of a proverb. I found it interesting that it is said so sarcastically, rather than earnestly. However, in other versions*, it is not necessarily sarcastic or bitter. Seeing that it isn’t a saying unique to making theater costumes—or unique to a bitter saying—the attitude with which a participant in this folklore says the proverb changes the intention of the proverb. The attitude also indicates that the saying is useful despite differing levels of belief in superstitions: the reciter may believe whole-heartedly that their drop of blood (it must be accidental) will give the actor a better performance. Or the reciter may not believe the proverb, but say it anyway, as participating in the tradition or just in case it is true.


Don’t say “Macbeth” backstage

“Macbeth–the Scottish play. You can’t say it backstage during a performance.”


Actors are probably the most superstitious professional group on the planet. Among their more common superstitions is the idea that “the Scottish play” – Macbeth – is cursed. Simply speaking the name of the play backstage will bring calamity upon whatever production is being put on, so actors call it “the Scottish play” instead. There are legends about bad luck following the productions of Macbeth, but at this point, the superstition is likely kept up just for traditions’ sake. However, my informant was adamant about the fact that she would not speak the name backstage, even though she doesn’t personally believe in the curse; apparently, enough actors do believe in it that it is better to refrain than risk their wrath.

Break a leg

“You can never say ‘good luck,’ you have to say ‘break a leg.’”


My informant grew up in the theater. This is perhaps the most common superstition among stage performers. Although my informant wasn’t sure exactly where the tradition comes from, it is likely that performers don’t want to jinx their show by talking about luck or anticipating a good show. Instead, “break a leg” does just the opposite – it wishes harm on the performer so that the opposite will happen.

How many…

Informant Bio/Context

The following series of jokes was told on the set of a USC student music video. My informant was helping out as a grip (crew member who works setting up lights and moving equipment).  She is currently a film student at USC and often works in the sound department, but like most USC film students she has held positions in other departments as well.


How many actors does it take to change a lightbulb? One – they change it and the world revolves around them.
How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb? Do we have to change it?
How many producers does it take to change a lightbulb? Does it have to be a lightbulb?
How many electrics does it take to change a lightbulb? It’s not a lightbulb, it’s a “globe.”


This series of jokes is best heard all together as my informant told them because it makes clear the comparison between the departments. My informant liked them because she herself has functioned in each of the roles mentioned above on a film set, and has noticed that her perspective on a particular task or issue does change with each job.

The joke plays on stereotypes of each role, but also simply their function as part of the collaborative process of making the film. Actors are viewed as vain and egotistical, however it is also true that all of the work done on a film set “revolves around” them, as its their actions that drive the movie. Writers are portrayed as those whose visions are trampled on by the changes asked of them by directors and producers, but they are also here seen to be defensive of the integrity of their work. The implication about producers here is that they will always look for an easier, and more cost effective solution than what it written, and it always shows them to be people who think outside the box. Electrics (film crew in charge of all electrical equipment on a set, including lighting) are portrayed here to have a specific way of viewing their equipment, and special terms for it, that differs from most others’ perception. The joke says that electrics are an exclusive group on-set, welcoming only to those who understand their methods, equipment, and terminology.

My informant felt that these implications about each department, both positive and negative, were accurate. Because of her experiences in these departments she enjoyed that the jokes clearly separate each department from one another, showing that no one on a film set is going to look at something the same way as anyone else will, because every department is in charge of considering different things. With actors its the performance, writers the story, producers the money, and electrics the gear.

I think the jokes also show that each department views their interpretation of the object as the one that makes the most sense and is most important to the making of the film. The humor in the joke comes from this separation of points of view.

Warming up to the rest of the cast

Informant Bio and Context

My informant is a first year drama student attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood, California. This student has described his classmates as being dramatic even in their day-to-day lives, placing equal importance on weekend partying and writing character bios of their characters for plays in classes. The informant considers himself to be a writer, rather than an actor and speaks cynically of some aspects of the acting community.

At the Academy the students exclusively study acting techniques for the stage and screen. At each semester’s end the students are cast in “final exam plays.”

Before each play, the students gather on the stage and perform warm up exercises. This student described to me one particular exercise that was used before his play that was not directly related to limbering up the body or warming up the vocal cords.


The first thing we would do typically is just free stretch, standing in a circle. Has to be a circle because if its not a circle you can’t, “feel the love.” You do a free stretch and you crack your neck, and your back a little bit. And then you hold out your hands [he stands with his legs spread and hands out at his side, as if to grasp the hands of people standing on either side of him] like this and everybody joins hands, so we’re in a circle, holding hands. First thing you do is you close your eyes, take a deep breath, connect yourself to the earth. Feel grounded. And you’re constantly aware that at the center of the Earth there is a great, glowing ball of fire. And you can feel that energy radiating through the surface of the earth. Whenever you’re feeling low energy, or negative, or making negative choices – character choices, not like “don’t do drugs” those kinds of choices – you just pull on that energy and you can feel it, lava, moving slowly like sap, through the surface of the Earth, into your body and out through your hands. And send that energy out your hands and into the hands of the person next to you. So you can send that energy so they can feel your warmth, and your energy, and your love.

Last thing you do, you close your eyes, and picture a blank white screen right behind your head. And whatever you’re feeling, whatever problems you have, emotional issues going on in your life, you can always go back to that white screen. It’s all that matters; its your emotional center point. Picture a star in the center of that screen, and the star is in complete focus. It is the termination of your energy, it is where your energy is going, the same energy you’re drawing from the Earth, which is that whole ball of fire. Yep. Okay. And then, open your eyes and picture in front of you a person, place, or thing that you love, just without reservation, that fills you love and joy. And look at that thing as you love it and now look at everybody around you in the circle and send them out, with your eyes – not sarcastic, warm, unmedicated, positive eyes – send them that love for that person, place, or thing. Any time you have to stand up and act, if you are in any way troubled, go back to that white screen, and white star and look at people with love and they will feel your love and your energy, and from there you can give them whatever emotions you need. [This last sentence means that the other actor will be receptive to you if you look at them with love, and that they will then be able to convey the emotions that you need from them to play your role.]

Then, give everyone’s hands a reassuring squeeze and radiate out that love, so that the person next to you knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love them, that you are there for them as an ensemble, as a cast. Then you let go, take a deep breath… and then we typically do articulation exercises.


My informant explained that this exercise is meant to ensure that every actor is connected to the other members of the cast prior to the performance. When asked if he felt that the exercise worked in this way he responded: “Not in the slightest. Total waste of time. Probably works for most actors and not me. I am a writer. I feel more connected to a character when I’m an actual person doing things that normal people do and this isn’t something people do. Well, it does create an emotional connection, its a fake emotional connection, but its there.”

This ritual, whether the actors feel it is silly or not, is a transformative one. The group performing it when they enter the stage are individual actors preparing to play roles. The ritual links each actor purely by virtue of the fact that everyone performs it together. As the last act of the group before they perform together, it allows everyone to cross the liminal threshold from actors to characters, and individuals to ensemble. The meditative quality of the ritual would help to clear the mind of concerns brought to the stage from the actors’ lives outside of it, bringing each person into the mindset of the job, so to speak. The individual is set aside to that that the actors can now act as a collective.