Some may be superstitions, but often theatrical traditions can be extremely useful.
Everyone knows that "the show must go on", but there are lots of things in the theatre that are a little less well-known- but incredibly useful. Today, we share a bit more of our knowledge as professional actors to let you in on a few useful tips and traditions:
1. "Half hour": Thirty minutes before curtain, known as "half hour", is the required time for everyone involved in the show to be present at the theatre. No one can arrive after half hour (unless an emergency happens, of course...) without running the risk of being reprimanded, docked, or replaced. Actors' Equity, the union representing Actors and Stage Managers, has strict rules about this policy. Half hour is also the time actors use to dress, prep, and warm up. (In many situations, people actually arrive early in order to give themselves more than a half hour of preparation.)
What's in it for you? Whenever possible, give yourself a "half hour call" before you present. Block that time off to get yourself ready to go on mentally and physically. Giving a group presentation? Institute half hour for the group- that way, no one can run in unprepared at the last minute. (Of course, if you are able to take more than 30 minutes, do it! Just try and make a half hour your minimum.)
2. "Upstaging yourself": Sometimes actors move to a place on stage that puts another actor, piece of scenery, or prop behind them in such a way that they have to turn their back to the audience for an extended period of time to interact with it. This is called "upstaging yourself". When an actor puts himself in such a position, it weakens the character and the action- the audience will have increasing difficulty connecting with a person who spends lots of time turned backwards.
What's in it for you? In a presentation setting, it is extremely easy to upstage yourself with visual aids such as PowerPoint equipment, flip charts, demo tables and more. Whenever possible, your goal should be to keep your face to your audience. That may mean adjusting your physical location (or the set up of your visual aids!) to avoid having to deal with things that are far behind you.
3. Touching other people's props: The cry often goes up around the theatre: "Don't touch the props!" Or worse: "Who moved my prop!?" Knowing that everything is exactly where an actor needs it to be is one of the keys to having a calm and confident performance. One misplaced prop can change not only the course of an entire performance, but the course of the play!
What's in it for you? Especially when presenting with a group, respect where your presenting partners have put things like notes, laptops, etc. If you find something is in your way, ask if you can relocate it. When you're presenting on your own, make sure that everything is where you need it to be long before you go on. (Hmmm- maybe during that "half hour" we talked about??)
4. The Stage Manager is in charge: As important as the Director, Actors, and Designers may be, when it comes to keeping things in order, seeing that everything gets done, maintaining the integrity of the production (and much, much more) the Stage Manager literally runs the show! It is an incredibly difficult and demanding job, and of vital importance to any production. A good stage manager can be the difference between success and disaster.
What's in it for you? Assign a "Stage Manager". Pick a member of your presenting group to be in charge of things like maintaining your presentation blocking, making sure everyone knows when and where rehearsals and presentations will be, and keeping the group honest about time. Having one point person rather than many will help ensure that the presentation experience runs smoothly.
5. Don't Mention Mackers: Anyone who's ever worked in the theatre will tell you that absolutely NO ONE should say the name of Shakespeare's Scottish Play in a theatre. (You know the one- a one-word title starting with MAC?) Never. Ever. Under ANY circumstance. Even the least superstitious of the bunch will cringe a bit should someone mistakenly utter the ill-fated name. Reasons for this superstition are as random and storied as the supersition itself- because of the "evil" presented in the play, it is a curse to bring that "evil" into any other production. OR that the witch characters incant an actual spell. OR that the play itself is cursed by a history of deaths and injuries involved with productions over time. Who knows why. Regardless of the alleged reason, Mackers (an affectionate nickname) is persona non grata in the theatre.
What's in it for you? Not TOO much, except that it's cool to know. And it may save you from being told you need to run outside the theatre, spin around three times, spit over one shoulder and come back in, should you say it at the wrong time. (Yes, there's a remedy for it!)