…Break a leg! The Value of Drama
By: Staci Sabarsky
Break a leg was this week’s Drama Kids Phrase of the Week! Since this was the week of Parent Presentations, we thought we would introduce this idea to the students. Theater folk are very superstitious, and many think it is in fact bad luck to wish performers “good luck” prior to a performance of any kind.
The origins of this phrase have been debated and there are many varying theories. One theory is that it refers to bowing or curtsying when the leg is bent. Another theory is that it refers to the side curtains or “legs” on the stage. That is, the actors will have to cross the legs or “break” them many times for the multiple curtain calls they will take at the end of a successful performance. Still another is that you are wishing the actor a lucky break or leg up, so to speak. Finally, there is another theory that I had never heard of until researching this blog, which has to do with the 1865 assassination of Abraham Lincoln. You may not know that John Wilkes Booth was an actor before he turned assassin. Apparently, Booth wrote in his diary that he broke his leg when he jumped to the stage after the assassination. So, by wishing a performer, “Break a leg,” you are actually wishing them a memorable “performance.” I personally find that theory a bit morbid.
Whatever the origin, I enjoy the tradition of wishing performers luck in a non-traditional way. As I write this, I am reminded of a friend’s mom who was from Ireland. She was a sweet lady, but had her phraseology a little confused and would say, “Crack a leg!” This combined with her Irish brogue, was comical, but the sentiment was much appreciated.
Some companies even give their actors and crew small tokens of appreciation on opening night called “Break a leg!” I still have many of mine from various productions in the past. They are often small things that relate to the show in some way. For example, I have a glass slipper ornament from a production of Cinderella. A set of wood coasters from a production of The Spitfire Grill because there was a song about the woods. Small framed pictures of different casts. Toy handcuffs from a production of The 39 Steps because I spent the better part of Act II handcuffed to the male lead in the show. These items are treasures and bring back a flood of memories along with handwritten cards, theater buttons, and show shirts that act as wonderful remembrances of my acting and directing career.
So, as we enter the performance season, in preparation for our spring play performances, remember to wish your students luck without saying “Good luck!” Tell them to “Break a leg!” Know that you aren’t wishing them injury, but thunderous applause from an appreciative audience.