One of the most well-known myths for thespians involves uttering the name “Macbeth” inside the theatre. If you are currently in a production, sitting in a theatre and for some reason reading this article out loud, please relocate.
As the legend goes, when this name is spoken inside a theatre, it can curse the production. Lights can fall, people can literally break their legs and the whole of a production may become a disaster within minutes. Once spoken, a curse reversal needs to occur, or things may just keep going terribly wrong.
We know what some of you may be thinking: This is just a silly superstition. But just before you utter this in a theatre to prove us wrong, see if these seven stories from our Theatre Nerds about how the Scottish play nearly ruined a production will change your mind:
1. The Fire Alarm and the Fuse Box
When I was a freshman in high school, I was in my first school show. We were doing a production of “Me and My Girl,” which is basically a weird secondhand version of “My Fair Lady.” A senior in our school thought he was above the silly myth of uttering the Scottish play. Of course, the day before our opening night, he said the infamous word in the theatre. We all told him he had to follow the correct procedures to reverse the curse. Of course, he laughed in our faces. As we went back to change out of our costumes that night, the lights abruptly turned off. Everyone screamed, and after a few seconds, they came back on.
I wish I could say it stopped there.
The first act of the show ends with this big ensemble number, so most of us were in fancy dress complete with elbow-length gloves. On our opening night, we were all getting ready to go on, then the fire alarm went off. Everyone had to evacuate the theatre. All of the actors had to go out back, and of course, it was pouring rain. As we all huddled together trying to stay dry, we knew this had to be related to the curse. The alarm was finally fixed, and we all returned to the theatre and completed our number in our damp dresses.
The next day, the fuse box blew. At that point, most of the cast didn’t think it was a coincidence. The responsible senior was forced outside to do the reversal. After that, the final show of the weekend went according to plan without any issues.
— Nicole M.
2. Oh, Oscar
Junior year of high school, we were putting on “The Odd Couple” (both versions) while simultaneously reading the Scottish play in English. The kid playing Oscar started talking about it during dress rehearsal and promptly twisted his ankle. He had to leave rehearsal to go to urgent care and had a limp for the run of the show.
— Jen R.
3. Not a Laughing Matter
When I was in high school, we did two one-act plays for my senior-year show. Between the two casts, there were a lot of people. Our theatre program was still in development, and a lot of people who were in the show were new to theatre. As we all spent time together and bonded, I mentioned the curse of the Scottish play, and everyone looked at me like I had 12 heads. I was so surprised that they had never heard of it, but beyond that, most people didn’t believe me, and they thought it was just a funny bit to tease me with.
They said it all the time, and I would furiously rush to do the countercurse for them to hopefully save our shows. It became a huge joke, and everyone thought it was hysterical, but I was truly terrified that something was going to happen.
During our preview performance during the school day, the curse presented itself. The first one-act was set in a high-school classroom of a school that was just placed on lockdown. There’s a scene where the fire alarm goes off, and there’s chaos in the room and everyone’s running around and screaming. During this moment, one of the shy and timid students escapes out of the classroom. While we were doing this scene, the actress playing the shy student got shuffled around in all of the chaos and ended up flying into the classroom door, headfirst, taking the doorknob with her. Luckily, she wasn’t too seriously injured, but my castmates eased up on the teasing after that!
— Marissa R.
4. The Aftermath
It was our final show, and someone said “Macbeth” right before curtain. The show went fine. Afterward, we packed up the auditorium. To take the trash out, we bring it up the elevator to save ourselves from carrying it up the stairs. Well, when we went up, the elevator got stuck and firemen had to come and get us out.
— Emma O.
5. All of the Injuries
My senior year of high school, I worked on costumes for “West Side Story.” Someone in the cast had read the play for English class, and someone said the name in the theatre. Shortly after, our Maria ended up in the hospital, Tony sprained his ankle and one of the ensemble members shattered his heel during a fight scene rehearsal. This was all about four days before opening night. Luckily, everyone was OK, and even the guy with the shattered heel still made it onstage. But, needless to say, my high school is definitely wary of the Scottish play now. I actually think the guy who shattered his heel was the guy who said the name of the play.
— Brianna N.
At our community college, we were in tech week for “Taming of the Shrew.” An older man who had taught English but had never done theatre said it during a prop check. The chair broke and he fell. Then, the chair fell on him and he broke his shoulder. The light board also buzzed and shorted out. We attempted to do some “reverse the curse” ritual, and then we were told to go home.
— Meg S.
7. Third Time’s the Charm
In high school, we were getting the set together for two different shows. One of the students did believe in the “M-word” and decided to say it three times center stage and loud enough to hear across the theatre. Shortly after, one student had a bad feeling about the lights onstage and decided to double-check. It was a good thing, too, because the light was about to fall. Then, one of the female leads in one of the plays was cutting some fabric for curtains and cut her finger deep enough that she needed stitches. Next, the guy who was in a group during rehearsals was walking around the stage and fell off the stage, spraining his ankle.
— Natalia B.