Tag Archives: theatre ritual

Theatre Pre-Performance Ritual for RENT

Main Piece

“[This ritual] is very common: the whole team tapping a sign before a game. In RENT, we have a plaque hand-carved by Jonathan Larson’s uncle that he carved when he died that his sister gave us. She came in and talked to our cast, and her and his college roommates gave us this plaque for the duration of our show. And it’s this big hand-carved plaque that says “Thank you, Jonathan Larson” on it. It’s hung up backstage, and after our group circle, we all have to go up to it one by one [before every performance] and like, place our hands on it and thank him before we go onstage to perform…Really simple, but we all do it and constantly remind each other of it and it’s really important to our cast.

Some of us like, if we’re feeling especially emotional, will literally sit in front of it and cry. I’m so serious, I’ve done that, ’cause Jonathan Larson is really important to me.”


Informant Interpretation: Informant related ritual to common sports team rituals of tapping a specific sign for luck or protection before a game. They also mentioned that the pre-RENT performance tapping of the sign was a means of “community building” and enabled cast members to “ground themselves” and “remind themselves about why they’re doing this piece of art.”

Personal Interpretation: This is clearly an important tradition to the informant and their cast, furthered by the subject matter of RENT (queer people living in NYC during the HIV/AIDS crisis) and fact that its creator, Jonathan Larson, died one day before the musical’s original opening in 1996. The sign is a physicalized reminder of the humanity and weight the show carries, and gives the cast members a material way to remember the real people it’s grounded in before going onstage. To me, it sounds like tapping this sign is a ritualized remembrance of the responsibility to tell and represent an important, nuanced story to the audience, and for the cast to honor the people around them–cast, crew, relatives, friends, and more–as well as the source of the art they’re bringing into the light.


Informant is a 21 year old college student studying theatre at USC. The performance of RENT mentioned happened this semester, with rehearsals running January-April and performances in April. It was put on by the USC School of Dramatic Arts–informant performed in the ensemble for all performances. Informant is mixed race (white and Pacific Islander), and identifies as queer and fem-presenting.

Circle — A High School Theater Ritual

Main Piece: 

Before every show we always had this thing called Circle, and the purpose of Circle was to kind of like, get you hyped up and get your nerves out, and kind of keep you from being shy or feeling stage fright by doing silly, silly things, and seeing people do silly things. And the whole tradition of Circle is that you chant, “Oooh, I feel so good like! I knew I would! Oooh I feel so good!” And you would just continually chant that while clapping to a certain beat until someone went into the circle and would be like, “Like [something now]”  and everyone would just mimic them no matter what it was. It could’ve been something that had been done every year before them; that’s like a very simple one, like “Like a chair now!” And you do a squat [laughing] and, y’know, you do a squat and then you continue the chant. Or, you could make one up every single time. I remember [a classmate] once went in the circle and went like “Like a parabola!” and literally did a backwards handstand and bent over backwards. And it was crazy, and people started doing it all the time after that even if he wasn’t at [the high school] anymore at the time. That was a fun one that, like, caught on. 


My informant is one of my friends from high school, and was very involved in our school’s theater department. Circle was one of the most consistent rituals prior to every show, no matter if it was opening or closing night, and the chant from the piece was one of the most popular and well known. When I asked my informant what the tradition meant to him, he said it was about “being vulnerable and bonding with other people, especially if it’s your first show and you’re nervous.” Seeing people perform silly antics removed the fear of embarrassment and let everyone come together to prepare for a great performance while also feeling supported by those around you.


This came up when my informant and I were trying to remember traditions that happened in our theater department during high school. While I was involved in a few shows, my friend had more experience than I did and was able to remind me of a ritual that the department participated in before every single play or musical show. 


In this ritual, we can observe that the purpose is to create an energetic atmosphere where the cast and crew could get excited for the show; in a way, this ritual is meant to bring good luck to them and alleviate tension. We can also observe that there’s an expectation for what to do during the chant, but not only that, there’s a myriad of variations to the chant that have been made up by people from past generations of the theater department. I also liked that my informant gave the example of “Like a parabola now!” because it shows that Circles functions not only as a stress reliever before a show, but an opportunity for a theater kid to leave a legacy behind, as seen by the fact that our past classmate’s variation is still performed even if he no longer goes to the school. Additionally, we see the multiplicity and variation in the different chants that are performed at each Circle, and know that some will die out and be replaced with others depending on how popular the chant becomes.