Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Mac(ScottishPlay) Experiment

Let me just state upfront that I'm not superstitious. I'll whistle onstage, I own two black cats who cross my path regularly without harm, I'll spill salt with wild abandon. So I take an amused, detached view to superstitions in general. One of my favorites: theater people believe it's the worst possible jinx to say the word "Macbeth" in a theater. Some go so far as to never say the word, on stage or off. I think this is a wee bit silly, though I generally avoid saying the M-word just to keep my fellow stage workers from hyperventilating and falling onto power tools. The preferred substitute for "Macbeth" is "The Scottish Play"; apparently referring to Macbeth is fine, as long as you avoid the actual proper noun.

Superstitions fall apart as soon as you try to quantify them too much, though. How recently can a black cat have crossed your path to cause bad luck? If it never wears off, good luck finding any place that has never been trod upon by a black cat. Do you have to see the cat cross your path? If he's within visual range, but you're looking the wrong direction when he crosses your path, do you still get bad luck? Is it the same degree of curse if he's closer to you? What's the half-life of bad black-cat luck? What if he wanders across your path, then walks back where he came from -- do the two crossings balance out to neutral, or does your bad luck double from the second crossing (that is, is bad luck a vector or scalar quantity)? If a black cat crosses over a bridge, and you're walking under it, did he cross your path, or is your luck unchanged? Are you protected by the cat's altitude, or by the material of the bridge? If the superstition is true, there need to be answers to all of these (and many more) questions. But after a while, it becomes a bit ridiculous.

So, my Macbeth question: at what point are you allowed to start saying the M-word if you're doing an actual production onstage? I assume that the actors are allowed to read their lines, even though they frequently include the Forbidden Name. When the person gives the curtain speech, are they allowed to name the play the audience is about to watch, or do they have to say something like, "ladies and gentlemen, the Theater Company is proud to welcome you to our production of *mumblemumble*!" How about rehearsals -- when the director has a production meeting onstage, is he allowed to use the name of the play? When the tech crew is loading in the scenery, do they get to say "Macbeth"? What if you're not yet in production, but you're discussing possible shows for the upcoming season? At what point in the production or pre-production does the jinx go away?

Which led to Laura's and my funny conversation this morning. What if a theater company believed that the jinx never goes away? The play would look like this:

Guard 1: "Here approach Banquo and Scottish Guy!"
Guard 2: "Where is Lady *coughcough*?"

Or, better, have someone bleep out the M-word, as if it were an obscenity:

First Ghost: Mac[beep] Mac[beep] Mac[beep], beware Macduff, beware the Thane of Fife!

Macduff: ...Mac[beep] was from his mother's womb untimely ripped! [glares offstage]
voice offstage: ... sorry!

1 comment:

Cathy said...

The story I've heard is that the scene with the witches at the start of the play is an actual curse, which is only dispelled with the series of deaths in the play. Performance will, of course, lead to those deaths. Rehearsal will also, eventually, so it's OK to quote the show that way. Any other time the show is quoted in the theatre (and it is any quote from Macbeth, not just the name) the curse is activated and needs to run its course, somehow. Either the offender is kicked out of the building and made to look the fool, or risks getting clobbered with a batten. I'm not saying it's true, but that's the way I heard it.