Alan Cumming will say “Macbeth” even in the theater, despite The Curse of The Scottish Play

Alan Cumming's Macbeth is coming to Broadway

Alan Cumming’s Macbeth is coming to Broadway

Defying the long-held superstition about the dangers of saying the name “Macbeth” inside a theater, Alan Cumming replied to my inquiry:

“I am going to say Macbeth everywhere, even in the theatre. None of this ‘Scottish play’ stuff for me!”

Responses so far have ranged from
peter foy ‏ Yir doomed, doomed ah tell yi.

to

Peter A Bell Quite right! It’s bad luck to be superstitious

to

accounts that the superstition is real:

Robert Gray: I was playing the Dr and someone mention the word & Lady M nearly died in the Dr scene

Alan Cumming’s one-man Macbeth is playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater from April 7th through June 30, 2013.

Update: 

How did “The Curse of The Scottish Play” superstition begin?

It goes back to the very beginning of Shakespeare’s play, according to legend, when “Macbeth” was presented to King James in 1606. The boy playing Lady Macbeth suddenly got sick backstage and died. Two centuries later, fans of a rival American actor rioted when British William Macready was performing the play, the infamous Astor Place Riot of 1849, in which 22 people were killed.

But this is not just long-ago history or legend. You cannot dissuade modern-day actors from believing in the curse. Here is page 301 of Patti LuPone’s memoir, discussing what happened during a production of “Gypsy” on Broadway when director Arthur Laurents “said out loud what must never be said inside a theatre: He uttered the actual title of the Shakespearean tragedy we call ‘the Scottish Play.’

“Theatre people are notoriously superstitious, and saying the name Macbeth backstage or in a dressing room is the biggest, darkest superstition of them all. It’s taken seriously with good reason. Actors can tell tales of accidents and close calls after someone uttered the word. Soon it began happening to us, too. Things started to go wrong. The curtains got snarled in the “Rose” light at the end of “Rose’s Turn.” Sami Gayle, our Baby June, fractured her pelvis warming up  and missed the Broadway opening. This was serious stuff, and something had to be done before there were any more mishaps. Lenora pulled me aside and was adamant that Arthur break the curse. She had a deep look of concern on her face, as if she’d be next in the line of injuries.

“The ritual to break the curse of the Scottish Play is very specific, and more than a little peculiar. In accordance with the time-honored procedure, I made Arthur go outside onto West Forty-fourth Street, only because that’s where I found him backstage—right next to the door. It was almost thirty minutes before we were due to go on. He was baffled at my insistence that he go through this ritual. He was outside on the street and I told him through the closed door to turn around counterclockwise three times, spit over his left shoulder, curse, then knock on the door and ask to come back in. Well, we heard him swear like a drunken sailor, even though there was a line of ticket holders standing next to the door, intrigued or horrified by the sigh of Arthur Laurents spinning, spitting, and swearing. But it had the desired effect, and the spell was broken.”

2nd Update:

Alan Cumming may say the name of the play, but the producers don’t want the audience to — or at least, they’ve come up with an attention-getting sign on the doors to the Ethel Barrymore Theater: “…The producers ask that you please refrain from speaking the name of the play…”

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About Jonathan Mandell
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

4 Responses to Alan Cumming will say “Macbeth” even in the theater, despite The Curse of The Scottish Play

  1. More comments:
    Sara Lou Wolter ‏@itssaralou so shall we dispense with “break a leg” and say gxxd lxxk instead? ….D. Jude Rovira ‏@TheSpiderJude 2 your playing him you do what you want; I’ll stick to “Scottish play” because I’m superstitious…g[a{lex]ie} ‏@galexieKboom I think there’s a caveat as you *are* Scottish. What are you to call it? “The me play”? ….Maureen McKendrick ‏@carmunchski Thumb your nose at superstition young man – quite right!! Maureen, x

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