MA: “A pre-show ritual we would do at my high school, if you were sticking your thumb and your pinky out, you would link your pinky with someone else’s and then bite your thumbs in front of each other’s faces. It’s kind of like a kiss, but you’re not actually kissing.”
The informant is a 20-year-old college student from Orange County, California, who did musical theater throughout her childhood and attended a performing arts high school. She and her castmates in high school would do this ritual before the beginning of a performance. MA described how the gesture allowed performers to be calm in the high anxiety moments before a show. The intimacy of this act, which she compared to a kiss since “you’re literally a hand’s length away from each other’s faces,” fosters a sense camaraderie between members of a cast which can boost performers’ confidence.
This ritual, like many if not all pre-show rituals, evokes a sense of solidarity between performers. Because performers spend so much time together rehearsing, members of a cast tend to bond with each other. This is important since live theater relies on each individual’s performance as well as the interactions between performers, so fostering a sense of community promotes the success of the actors and of the show. The medium demands vulnerability from performers, who must put themselves on display and maintain their dramatic personas while fielding the immediate, unfiltered reactions of the audience. Thus, a show’s success relies on the cast’s ability to trust one another. This intimate musical theater ritual both reflects and promotes the closeness of the cast, conveying that the performers’ trust and believe in each other. This sense of support and community can build confidence and lessen stress, enabling better performance. It can also be interpreted as a good luck ritual or even a superstition.