Thespians, they’re a funny lot. Wish them good luck before a show and they might just rip your head off. Tell them to break a limb and they’re surprisingly gracious. Welcome to the world of performing arts, where entertaining superstition is just as important as entertaining the audience.
REAK A LEG is the oldest and most well-known saying of them all, but just where did it come from? The general consensus is that it’s bad luck to say ‘good luck’, so telling someone to ‘break a leg’ tempts fate to make something good happen. However, Blue Tomato has discovered that there may be more to it than just this: Breaking a leg has connections with taking a bow. The greater and lower an actor bows represents the quality of his performance. If you’re breaking a leg in order to bow to the audience, then you’ve been a great success. In Elizabethan times the audience would stamp their chairs as a means of applause. If the applause was wild enough then chair legs would break. Breaking a leg symbolises making a great effort. Therefore, an actor who breaks a leg endeavours to give a noteworthy and impressive performance. The side curtains of a stage are referred to as legs. Therefore, if an actor is called back onto stage after a performance then they ‘break the legs’ as they walk back through the curtains.
I’d rather have broken a leg... The West End production of The Lord of the Rings was put on hold after an actor got caught in part of the massive hydraulicallypowered stage. He was left screaming in pain as his leg became trapped. The curtain came down and the show was temporarily abandoned. Bonnie Langford’s stage debut (at just seven years old) was met by Noel Coward’s callous comment: “they ought to cut the second act...and the child’s throat”. While in Edinburgh the production of Twelve Angry Men was halted after a lady in the audience tripped forwards, fell and smashed her face on stage. Just after he sang the words “too bad you can only live so long”, Richard Versalle, a 63 year old tenor with New York’s Metropolitan Opera fell to the floor and died, reportedly of a heart attack. While performing at Vienna’s Burgtheater, Daniel Hoevels ended up slitting his own throat after the prop knife intended for the on-stage suicide turned out to be a real one. Daniel miraculously survived. After the 1865 assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the actor turned assassin - John Wilkes Booth - leapt onto the stage of Ford’s Theatre and surprise, surprise... broke his leg.