Theater Macbeth Superstition


“Ok so I’ve been doing theater since I was a little kid. And I remember the first time I heard of this superstition, I was like, 7 I think. I was in my first musical and someone started talking about the M word. And I was like, “what’s the M word?” And they refused to tell me and I didn’t know why, and I thought they were like, talking about McDonalds or something. Cause we were backstage in the dressing room of the theater. So they tell me it’s a word we can’t say in the theater because it’s cursed and will make the play go bad, and that someone said it last year during the music and an actress fell of the stage and broke her leg. And when we get outside the theater when we leave, they tell me the word is Macbeth. And from then on I knew you weren’t supposed to say it. I was in a theater camp a few years later and I remember our teacher taught us about the curse. And one of the kids actually said Macbeth, and we all got so mad, and our teacher actually made him go outside to reverse it. He had to go outside the theater, spit over his left shoulder, and turn around three times. We all like followed him outside to watch him do it. Then I remember when I was in middle school I was in the musical, and someone said it. And we swear that’s why any mistake in the show happened. Like one of our lead actors was sick during the show, and we said it was because someone said the cursed word, we call it the Scottish Play while in the theater. So it’s a big superstition in theater, everyone knows about it. I feel like it became less important when I got older, but I still like actually believe in it. I’m not super superstitious or anything, but that’s the one that I’m really serious about. I don’t tell stories about it as much anymore, it’s not as sensational anymore, but I’m dead serious when people threaten to say it during a musical. I fully will not say it in a theater, even if it’s stupid. It’s kind of like a badge of being a real theater actor, like you’re really one of us because you won’t say it.” 


B is an 18-year-old college student who lives in the Bay Area in California. She has been doing theater for almost all her life, and still considers it a big part of her identity. She relays the superstition with a bit of conflict, because while she sometimes thinks it’s a little silly and doesn’t really believe a single word can be cursed in a certain location, she still reveres the superstition and won’t actually say it. This is a theater superstition that has been around for a long time, and she’s heard it in theaters across many states in the US. 


This is a magic superstition, where the belief is that if you do a particular thing, it will lead to bad luck. It is also combined with a conversion superstition, with the description of the actions that must be done to get rid of the bad luck. Superstitions like these are common in careers like theater, because live theater has so many elements that are out of people’s control. Once the show has begun, anything could go wrong and the actors have no way to control it. They could blank on a line, there could be a tech malfunction, there is a lot of anxiety surrounding life theater no matter how well they prepare. This means that there are a lot of superstitions, because it gives people an illusion of control that could act as a placebo effect. They can think “This show will go great, no one has said the Scottish Play yet!” It’s also an example of cognitive dissonance. When things go wrong in live theater and people don’t really know why, they like to have something to blame to give an explanation to the unexplainable. “Why did I forget the line I’ve had memorized and perfect for weeks? Oh, because someone said Macbeth!” This superstition is also a form of ritual that creates identity, like in Van Genup’s Rites of Passage. When she was in her first musical, she wasn’t really part of the group because she didn’t know the superstition about Macbeth. Now that she’s older and more experienced, she takes it as a sign of her identity. She underwent the rite of passage of learning about the Macbeth superstition, so now it creates her identity as a thespian. Her maintained belief in the superstition shows how even when things aren’t necessarily scientific, people can still believe them despite their rational mind telling them it doesn’t make sense. Belief works even against rationality. And just because it hasn’t been scientifically proven doesn’t mean the superstition isn’t true. Maybe there is a correlation between someone say Macbeth and a show going wrong.