Tag Archives: theatre

The M word

Main Piece: 

There’s a superstition in the theater world about saying Macbeth or Lady Macbeth or any like version of that. So you cannot say the M-word in a theater or I take it very seriously. I don’t even say it in like a classroom within a theater. I get really scared of that too. I don’t know why I mean I don’t know why, but I do. And oh my god, one of my professors, I think was Scott Ferris who explained the reason but the reasoning behind it, of why it’s Macbeth and not like any other character like Word or name, but if you do happen to say, the M-word in the theater, you have to go outside you have to spit on the ground, spin three times, something like that. And then or else like something terrible is going to go wrong with your show, or the theater is going to collapse or something’s going to happen. The spirits of Shakespeare will come after you. 

Informant’s Relationship to the Piece:

Me: Have you ever had an experience with like saying Macbeth and like anything bad happening? 

Informant: No. Well, actually, for one show one of our actors said it in the dressing room, and was saying “oh my god, I love Macbeth. It’s such a great play.” And the other actors were like ‘Go outside right now’ and I checked in on them during intermission. And they were saying and they were outside making this-this other actor who said the M word spit and like, spin around. And I was like, ‘what’s going on? I was like, you guys, okay? Like, I’m trying to make sure this show is gonna happen. And they were like, No, he has to do this. And the show went great, nothing happened. I personally have never said it. Um, I know that there’s some people who think it’s so silly and they’ll just say whatever they want, and I think everything turns out to be okay. But there is a part of me that always fears the spirits will come and give us some obstacle.

Context: 

The informant is one of my friends, a 19-year-old theatre major at the University of Southern California. I was told this as we were hanging out in one of the theatres on campus as we were talking about folklore. 

Analysis:

I’m also a theatre major and I think the majority of us have different levels of belief about “the M-word”, where my informant takes it seriously to the point where she won’t even say the characters name unless it’s in one of her lines, but I’ve also met people who don’t really care, and of course, there’s always the one person that says it to annoy the people who really believe in it. But, those people are seen in a different light in a theatre space, because the whole point is to build an ensemble, a community, and when you have a person in the space who goes out of their way to scare people in the group, they take the trust out of the space. So even if you don’t believe it, it’s a sort of litmus test to see who you might not want to work with in the future if they know the superstition and like go out of their way to say it. I also think the “cure” for saying the word is fun because everyone has a slightly different way of doing it, where the steps are all basically the same, but with different variations within it, where like you have to spit over your left shoulder, you have to spin three times, then knock three times and someone has to let you back in. In some variations, you have to say the worst curse word you can think of. 

The Legend of Macbeth

Folklore/ Text: “Macbeth!”

KM: Uttering the word “Macbeth” within a theatrical setting immediately brings bad luck to your day. This legend dates back to the early 1600s during the first-ever performance of Macbeth. The actor that was intended to portray Lady Macbeth suddenly passed away before the show, forcing Shakespeare himself to play the part. Later, the person playing King Duncan was stabbed with an actual dagger, and killed in front of a live audience. Many more unfortunate events like riots and murders have occurred during the runs of Macbeth, upholding the strange folklore surrounding the play. The only remedy is to exit the theater after saying the word, spin around three times, spit over your left shoulder, and either swear or recite a line of Shakespeare dialogue.  

Explanation/ Context: After over 400 years of Macbeth being performed on stages all over the world, the continuous accidents and occurrences further exemplify the grim lore of the play. It’s almost common knowledge that the word is cursed, whether you’re involved in theatre or not. No accidents are the same, but somehow exclusively happen during performances of Macbeth. When something goes wrong– someone said “Macbeth!” Even the remedy is widely known and allegedly stops oncoming.

Pre-Show Warm Up Chant

Text

“Tarzan, swinging from a rubber band, crashed into a frying pan, ow that hurts. Now Tarzan has a tan, and I hope it doesn’t peel! (peel is said in a falsetto voice) like a banana (beat chest). Jane, flying in an aeroplane, swept up by a hurricane. Ow, that hurt. Now Jane has a pain, and Tarzan has a tan, and I hope it doesn’t peel! Like a banana!”

Context

According to my informant, this chant is a repeat-after-me type of chant that’s used as a pre-show warm-up in school theatres. My informant says that there will be one or two leaders who will start the chant, and after every line, the rest of the cast in the theatrical production will loudly repeat after them. According to her, it’s been done before nearly every single show she’s ever been in, and is used to bring everyone’s energy levels up before the show officially starts. Alongside different inflections in the voice when one performs this chant, there are also some bodily movements done as well, including beating ones chest like a gorilla during following the like “like a banana.”

My Analysis

Being involved in theatre myself, I immediately recognized this pre-show chant when my informant brought it up in our interview. Immediately, I could remember all of the vocal inflections done in the chant, and how it really did bring everyone’s energy levels up in order to create a great show for the audience. My informant and I grew up together, but now live in very different places, and I thought it was immensely neat that theatrical productions all across the United States are utilizing this pre-show chant as a means to hype everybody up.

Pirate joke

Background: Informant is an 18 year old Jewish-American from Chicago, IL. They have a background in theatre and loves to tell jokes with their family. The informant says that their father, an actor, told them this joke.

Informant: My dad told me this joke when I was younger and it is one of the first jokes I ever memorized and I liked it because it was inappropriate. If somebody asks me to tell a joke it;s the first thing that comes to mind veen though I know it’s not a good one. 

A pirate walks into a bar with a steering wheel in his pants. The bartender says, “hey why do you have a steering wheel in your pants?” and the pirate goes, “aaaaar it’s driving me nuts!”

Reflection: I really enjoyed hearing my friend tell me this joke because it was really cheesy and I ahd heard a similar one before. I thought it was interesting how they mentioned that they liked it as a child due to it’s inappropriate nature, showing how children often cling to taboo subjects. This joke is also particularly funny in how it relies on the person’s delivery to make the other laugh. It requires a sense of theatricality that my informant had!

The M-Word

“So in the theatre you’re not supposed to say the word Macbeth ever. And that is because in legend, Shakespeare used like actually witch spells in the beginning of Macbeth, um, and so the witches cursed him and cursed the play so every time it was said in the theatre like something would go wrong in the production. And I’ve heard stories of like this happening to, you know, not to my school but like my friend’s school or a friend of a friend’s school, where like someone said Macbeth like 40 times in the middle of the theatre, and, like the pipes burst during opening night and like the lead broke their knee or whatever. And the only way to reverse this curse is to go out of the theatre, spin around three times while spitting over your shoulder and saying Shakespearean curses, and then ask to be invited back into the theatre. That’s the only way to reverse the curse. And so um for a lot of thespians, they try and find new and creative ways to say Macbeth. So I’ve heard the M-Word, I’ve heard Mac Daddy, I’ve heard the Scottish Play…Mac Daddy is a funny one I heard that at a like regional theatre competition like out of the mouth of like a grown man so that’s fun.”

Notes: This is a tentpole of the theatre community. I’ve never met anyone who was tangentially involved in theatre and hadn’t heard of the M-word. I’m not particularly superstitious, and even I jump at hearing the word Macbeth. This is a long-persisting legend, I feel in part to the universal “friend of a friend” that we can cite as our real-life source. I do think its interesting that this is the play that was chosen to be taboo as opposed to any of the other tragedies, which can be more gruesome and more supernatural. Perhaps this is the most well known tragedy?

For more on the curse, click here for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s article on the M-word.