It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: Boo!

Dave Sikula, surprising you, with our 666th posting! 

All day long, I’ve been trying to think of how to approach this. Earlier in the week, the proprietor wrote to tell me that this very post would be #666. Now, this may or may not be the number of the Beast. Some sources say it is, others say it’s 616. If that’s the case, the momentous post came months ago. (Probably written by Allison, but that’s another matter … )

One of the least threatening devils ever.

One of the least threatening devils ever.

I thought about writing a nine-paragraph post, with the first letters of each spelling “Hail Satan,” but, realistically, there was no way I would ever stop at a mere nine paragraphs. The obvious approach, then, would be to tell a theatrical ghost story, but in all my years of doing this, the closest I’ve ever come to a spectral encounter was hearing footsteps one night in an otherwise-empty theatre – and I couldn’t really squeeze a post out of that. I’ve been on the verge of being either bored or irritated to death while attending shows, but, again, there’s limited mileage in that.

But I was reminded of this – and I swear, every word of it is true.

A friend of mine and I made a pact about 30 years ago. Whichever one dies first will try to haunt the other, if such things are possible. I have no idea if she even remembers it, but I certainly do.

This is the same friend with whom I shared a couple of Ouija board experiences. Denise (to use her real name) is a very spiritual person; not necessarily “orthodox” spirituality, but certainly a believer in forms of magic and ritual, so doing the Ouija board was a natural for the two of us.

In memory, we did only a few sessions, but the one that stands out involves a spirit who told us his name was Karl Klimt. Not to speak ill of the dead, but Karl was crazy. He was angry, paranoid, and egomaniacal. Once we got hold of him, we just couldn’t shake him. He claimed, among other things, that during World War II, he had been the real Fuehrer and that impostor Hitler was a mere figurehead. He went on and on to the point where we had to just give the whole thing up.

Now, one thing to stress here: I wasn’t moving the planchet; I barely had my fingers on it, but it was moving at a mile a minute. (Karl was nothing if not efficient.) Now, Denise may have been moving it, but she swore she wasn’t. She’s a very good writer (mainly horror and poetry), but it wasn’t the kind of story she would have made up. Frankly, she would have been more creative.

 It gets its name from the French and German words for "yes" -- and that's the truth.

It gets its name from the French and German words for “yes” — and that’s the truth.

All of this happened sometime between 1987 and 1991. In 1991, I moved from lovely Tustin, CA to lovely Springfield, OR, in order to attend grad school at the University of Oregon

On one of my first nights in Oregon, one of the faculty members hosted a get-together for the grad students at his house. During that party, I was getting acquainted with a number of people, including one of the veterans, whom we’ll call Amy (since that’s her name). Somehow the subject of the Ouija board came up. I told her the story of Karl, and she had a story of her own. I don’t have the exact details, but my memory is that she told me that when she was in undergrad school, she lived in a haunted apartment, and that either she or a roommate had gone away for a vacation or Christmas trip, leaving the apartment empty. When she came back, no one had been in the apartment, but all the dishware had been moved from the kitchen and neatly stacked in the living room. I seem to recall she had later done the Ouija and contacted the previous tenant, a woman who’d passed on and confessed to moving the dishes. She thanked them for being friendly tenants.

Well, some time later, I’d related that story to someone, leaving out my connection with Herr Klimt. The theatre department at Oregon is in Villard Hall, which is the second-oldest building on campus. It was built in 1886, and even though it’s been renovated at least a couple of times, the interior is old – especially the bowels of the place. Well, “bowels” may not be the right word. There’s no basement (at least, not one I know of), so the heart of the bottom of the building is the stage of the Pocket Playhouse. The Pocket is a small auditorium that doubles as a classroom (I taught a number of sections of Beginning Acting in there). It seats about 100 in very steeply raked seats, and has a good-sized stage – even if there’s no wing space. I did a number of shows in there, and always found it a very hospitable space to work in.

 The Pocket Playhouse -- coincidentally photographed from the spot were we'd set up.

The Pocket Playhouse — coincidentally photographed from the spot were we’d set up.

Now, as we all know, every good theatre has a ghost, so I figured if anyplace on campus was going to have a ghost, it’d be Villard, and if there was any place in Villard that was going to be haunted, it’d be the stage of the Pocket. So, I determined that, one Saturday night, when nothing else was going on in the building, I was going to get a group together to do the Ouija board.

I forget who provided it, but come the appointed night, there were all were. There were five or six of us, and we broke out the board and the planchet, planted ourselves center stage, and asked someone to come visit us.

I think you know where this is going.

If I tell you I was barely touching the planchet again – to the point where my fingers nearly came off it a couple of times – you must believe me. (I mean, since I hadn’t told the story to anyone, there was no point in faking it then or telling the story now.) Now, I had told no one at this gathering about my past experience, but damned if Karl Klimt didn’t show up. As before, he hogged the session, ranting about his lack of recognition and making a pest of himself. I told the others about what had just happened, and everyone was suitably freaked out.

Eventually, we stopped that session, took a break and contacted someone else. Someone whom I seem to remember had some connection with the theatre, or at least the building, but was dull in comparison to what had happened with Karl. Whatever happened, it was enough to make us call on him (I’m pretty sure it was a him) to give us some kind of sign.

By this time, it was close to midnight on a Saturday night. It was rare enough for anyone to be in the building on a Saturday on a non-performance night, and even rarer for someone to be there that late, but at the exact moment we asked for a sign, there was an explosion of noise from upstairs.

We all looked at each other and raced upstairs to see what the hell had just happened. Someone had chosen that exact moment to practice his tap-dancing in the hall. Why he was there at all – that late and on a Saturday night – and why he chose to tap-dance just then, I can only submit for your consideration.

After that commotion died down, though – and as we were all leaving – I mean, what could follow that? – we noticed that one of the light bulbs in one of the building’s exit signs had exploded during our session. It had exploded with such force, in fact, that the face plate of the sign had been blown off.

I don’t believe a word of it, but I’ll be damned if I can explain it.

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Cowan Palace: Life in the Theater: It’s All Endless Superstitions and Myths

Ashley Cowan talks about why so many theater makers are simply superstitious. 

While I was in rehearsal the other night, one of my cast mates mentioned her upcoming production of Macbeth. And actually uttered the infamous title aloud as we sat onstage! Now, I’m not a conventionally superstitious person when it comes to my theater practices so I wasn’t terribly distressed. But the experience opened the door of conversation to the vast variety of theatrical superstitions and myths. So I thought it would be fun to research some of the more well known beliefs and share them with our Theater Pub community.

Break a Leg!

Have you ever wondered why it’s considered a bad idea to wish someone “good luck” before a performance? Well, the exact origin may not be known but there is a plethora of ideas. One of the most popular beliefs is that by telling someone to do the opposite of something, the sneaky spirits surrounding the space known to cause mischief would be tricked into making the reverse come true. So if you were told to “break a leg” you would actually be blessed with a great performance.

Another reasoning derives from Shakespearean time when the stage was supported on wooden “legs”. If a performance was a true success, it would cause such a commotion that a leg would actually break. Also coming from that time period, the word “break” doubled as “bend”. And if you were to bend your legs repeatedly it was because you were taking bows. One last idea comes from our friends in Ancient Greece, where it is believed that people would stomp in appreciation of a performance rather than clap. By that reasoning, a broken leg would be the result of a truly stupendous performance.

Ghosts! And Lights!

Ghosts are no strangers to the theater. It seems like in almost every space you find there’s a legend or story of it being haunted. A tradition to leave a burning light (onstage or backstage) was born so that the first and last person could safely get in and out of the theater. It’s also for those lurking creatures to find their ways; as the belief goes, if the theater was ever left dark, ghosts would seek out mischief and mayhem. There’s also an alternative superstition that every theater should have one evening during the week that’s an “off” night so that the ghosts can perform. Usually, it’s a Monday night so I like to imagine ghosts everywhere are forming their own Theater Pub rituals.

Colors!

In the olden days, making blue dye was a tricky business. Theater companies who were struggling financially would try to overcompensate by costuming their actors in hues of blue as an attempt to make their audiences believe they were flourishing. But the sad reality is, often they would actually go bankrupt because of the cost! So to counter any misfortune, silver was used with blue as a means to show that the company could actually afford their clothing.

Yellow isn’t often considered lucky either. Sorry, Big Bird. This one may come from religious plays of the past since this mellow color was often worn by whoever was playing the character of the devil.

And just to add one more to think about, you may want to wear green with caution! One cause for this belief is because the infamous Molière died a few hours after performing in his own play, Le Malade Imaginaire and you guessed it, he was wearing green! So perhaps French fans and other theater makers alike started to feel differently about this shade. However, the green room is still the name of the waiting area for actors to use so hopefully it isn’t too cursed.

Mirrors!

Many superstitious people out there believe that breaking a mirror will earn you seven years bad luck. But as usual, the theater superstition is a little different. Not only can having mirrors on stage provide technical issues because of reflecting light but if the mirror in use breaks it will be bring seven years of misfortune to both the person’s soul who was captured in it and to the theater itself.

Whistling!

The seven dwarfs may not have had it right when they sang about whistling when you work. At least in terms of working in the theater as it’s considered to be a pretty unlucky practice. Many years ago, before we used intercoms and other fancy modern tools, the crews working a show most likely had on again off again careers as sailors. Since both ships and the stage shared a similar series of ropes, these workers would communicate complicated cues through whistling. If an actor or someone outside the crew felt inspired to whistle their own tune, it could confuse the system, resulting in potentially dangerous cue mistakes. While the crew may no longer use whistling as a way to monitor the show, it’s still considered unlucky to whistle in a theater and as the superstition goes, if you do, someone in your production will be meet an unfortunate fate.

Peacock Feathers!

Apparently, peacock feathers are a big no-no in the theater world and under no circumstance should they be incorporated into a production in any capacity; be it, as a prop or costume piece, or disaster will consume the production. There are tales of erupting chaos involving fires and collapsing sets all blamed on the use of peacock feathers. It’s believed that the feather embodies an “evil eye” that wrecks havoc on any production by cursing them. Perhaps this one relates back to the Greek myth of Argus, a monster consisting of a hundred eyes, and Hera who had them forever kept in a peacock’s tail. Plus considering what we already learned from using blue and green colors in the theater, this one may just be best to avoid.

The Last Line!

In some theater circles, it is considered bad luck to rehearse the last line of the play until you open for an audience. As the show isn’t really a show until people are present to witness it, it’s thought to be unlucky. I hadn’t honestly heard this one before but hey, whatever floats your set piece boat. Often, the theater will open the final dress rehearsal to a small crowd so that they can perform the play in its entirety before opening night. Final dress rehearsal is often a source of superstition material as many practicing artists live by the “bad dress, great show” logic. Perhaps that one was invented by directors to cheer their cast from a lousy last rehearsal or as a means to excuse a poor performance before opening.

Flowers!

It’s thought to be good luck to give your director and/or leading lady flowers stolen from a graveyard on closing night. The flowers are meant to represent “the death of the show” and allowing it to be put to rest. It’s also a practical idea since stolen graveyard flowers are free! And we all know that a professional life in the theater does not often yield great piles of money.

Macbeth!

And our final point of discussion returns back to the origin of this blog. The mighty Macbeth. “The Scottish Curse” has been blamed for countless catastrophes and misfortunes throughout the years but this is yet another superstition that has a variety of suspected roots. Some believe that chants used by the witches in the story were from real practicing witches who were so disenchanted by the play and their resemblance that they cursed the show forever. While others think that maybe it’s just because the piece is ultimately violent and full of stage combat requirements. Add in a little dim lighting and things are likely to go wrong. If you do make the mistake of uttering “Macbeth” inside of a theater, the offender must leave the space, turn clockwise three times, and then beg to be allowed back in the building. It’s dramatic, but what else would you expect from drama folks?

And with that, I’ll leave you for now and return to memorizing my lines. But how about you? Do you practice any of these theater superstitions? How do you get through a production? As always, we’d love to hear from you.