Tag Archives: tradition

Theatre Pre-Performance Ritual for RENT

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“[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.

Club Initiation Ritual

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“[A club I joined this semester] has certain traditions and rituals that we have to undergo before we are onboarded slash, um, official members of the club – not on paper, but in the eyes of the members already. So…what they did is each new member or “newb” was blindfolded and led into a room where we were distracted and sc–I wouldn’t say they ‘scared’ us but they would like yell “BOO!” in our ears and scare us while we were blindfolded, but it never got too out of hand, it was never too scary, they were never too mean – just light, playful, pranks on us. And they would read–they read the constitution of their organization to us at hyper-speed while we were getting lightly hazed slash pranked and blindfolded by other members, and when they were done, we were taken back to our meeting room and we were each assigned — or they told us, in a big form of display, who our “Big” of the club was. We have “Bigs” and “Littles” — basically a new member is mentored by a past member, a member that has been reoccurring on the board — and they kind of take them under their wing to lead them throughout the club and the motions of the club, and we can come to our Bigs for advice, etc. And each of our Bigs ripped off our blindfolds and they would be standing right in front of us with their arms outstretched, ready to give us a hug. And we each had to go to different corners of the room with our Bigs and we were given 2-3 other members of the club as “delegates”, and we were all given champagne bottles. And each Little-Big pairs, along with their committee/chosen few delegates, had to chug the champagne bottle, and the first to finish got to pick karaoke for every other group.

I know that their tradition tends to wave and flow based on the constraints or number of new members that they get, but they always have traditions of light hazing, a grand Big-Little reveal, a reading of the constitution, and something where there’s a drinking competition.”


Informant’s Interpretation: Informant added context that this ritual happens at the beginning of the semester, and found it to be a fun tradition that unified the group. They also noted that it was hyped up to be a much more jokingly-frightening affair than it was in practice, and that partaking in it made them excited to be a part of a fun group. It also “broken down any of [their] nerves about being ‘new’ in the space.”

Personal Interpretation: While I believe hazing rituals sometimes take harmful forms on university campus, this one seems much more lighthearted and welcoming–particularly as recounted by informant, and with the knowledge that informant and peers were given context beforehand. Most importantly, the fact that it was something they were willing to share openly means no implication of absolute secrecy was present, which can often be a manipulative tactic for more intense hazing rituals. On a more analytical level, this reads as an initiation ritual–a way for new members to symbolically cross a boundary into being part of a group–and officially establish their ties to it. It also serves a purpose as a means of community bonding, and creates an experience only people part of the group have experience.


Informant is a 21 year old college student who was raised in North Carolina and attends school at USC. They are mixed race (Pacific Islander and white), and identify as queer and fem-presenting.

Family Christmas Cookie Making

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“Every Christmas, our house becomes a ‘candy factory’ – at some point when I was growing up, my mom found recipes for chocolate fudge, peanut butter toffee fudge, and peppermint bark, tweaked some of them so they didn’t have quite as many sticks of butter and cups of sugar, and started making them to give to neighbors and family. My dad started bringing them to work to give to his coworkers too, and now it’s something everyone looks forward to getting from us each year. My brother and I started helping make them pretty early on, at least since I was in eighth grade, and it’s become a key Christmas tradition – responsibility, even – to share with our mom every year.”


Informant’s Interpretation: This tradition holds primary relevance to informant as a family tradition. She likes to spend the time with her mom, but notes that since the whole thing puts a stress on her mom, helping can sometimes “feel more like a duty than a fun cozy Christmas tradition.” However, she notes that she still heavily associates this with how her family celebrates Christmas and thus enjoys it.

Personal Interpretation: I find this to be a classic example of a family Christmas tradition–particularly so because other families recognize it as such and come to enforce the idea of the tradition from a slightly-external perspective. While associated with a religious holiday, I don’t see any particular direct connection to Christian tradition other than perhaps the origins of the types of cookies. That said, it feels pretty removed from any religious context and has more to do with the time of year and family-centric association than anything else.


Informant is a 21 year old college student raised in Rancho Bernardo, California. She is female-presenting, white, and of European descent.

Undie Run at Chapman University (College Traditions)


Collector: “Do you participate in any specific rituals or festivals?”

Informant: “At Chapman, we have Undie Run the Wednesday night before finals week. Everyone meets up in the Piazza in like, just underwear or a bathing suit, like no clothes. I think it’s at like 12 o’clock, or 10– I don’t know I didn’t do it last semester—and everyone just runs around campus and the outskirts, and in the circle. It’s just Chapman students and there’s some faculty to supervise.”

Collector: “Why does this tradition take place?”

Informant: “To get drunk and let loose before finals. People drink at a pregame, not during the run.” 


The informant is a female undergraduate student at Chapman University. The Piazza is a circular courtyard at the center of campus where many students gather for special events.


This college tradition provides insight into American student culture and what they define as “letting go”– Indulging in alcohol, stripping into undergarments, and doing wild activities with comrades. The practice of the tradition signifies that these expressions are not appropriate for everyday life. This activity takes place at Midnight, a liminal time between day and night, almost like a magic hour where students don’t have to present themselves as polished and collegiate. A rebellious version of themselves can run wild at night but not in the day.

Lunar New Year Origins

Context: the informant is a 21 year old USC student with two Taiwanese immigrant parents. She told me that this was the story behind Lunar New Year. I was unable to record her exact words, but I was given permission to paraphrase.

The story goes like this: a long long time ago, there was a village that was attacked on the same day every year by a monster named Nian, which is the Chinese word for year. Year after year, people would die and they couldn’t do anything about it. Somehow, the people found out that Nian was afraid of fire, and so before he came to attack the village that year, they hung up red lanterns, tapestries, and banners outside their doors, hoping the monster would mistake the red color for fire and leave them alone. That year, when Nian came, he saw the decorations and was frightened away; that was the first year that nobody died. Every year after that, on that specific day, they would put up red decorations, hang red lanterns outside the walls, and set off firecrackers at night to make sure that the monster would never come back. During the day, children would also be given red envelopes to put under their pillows for protection. After that first year Nian was driven away, he never came back, too scared of the red colors that he thought were fire. Now for Chinese New Year, everyone wears red and puts up red decorations as a tradition, but this is the way it started.

Analysis: From the definitions we work off of in class, this would be classified as a legend because, while it’s an origin story, it’s an origin story for a tradition rather than a people or a land. It’s clearly set in our world and isn’t necessarily sacred, so if anything, it would be a legend, considering its veracity cannot be verified and it seems like something that, though supernatural, has the potential to be true.

Considering the red is supposed to mimic fire, it seems in theory very similar to some points that Francisco Vaz da Silva made about chromatic symbolism. He argues that the use of the black/white/red tricolor symbolism was “part of a general encoding of cultural values in sensory based categories” and while his argument was in relation to womanhood, I would say that some of might still apply. Red, in his example, was more of a sign of blood or maturation in Europe, but he goes on to reference a paper on African color symbolism that considers red as associated with activity or life-giving, much in the same way that blood might function.

Here, it represents similar concepts — red is a marker of life-giving in the way that it is a symbol of protection and its presence means the continued existence of life. Fire, and by extension, red, are both connected to the idea of life, resulting in an association of fire with vitality. Fire also brings light, driving away darkness and fear, creating another association with life-giving and continued success/safety.

Fire is also among one of the first things children are taught about (usually in the context of safety) and considering few things in nature are that color, I wonder if there’s more association of red with fire rather than blood for children who grow up hearing this story.