Superstitious

So I’m a Giants fan, right, and we’re (well, they’re) in the playoffs, playing the Reds, best 3 out of 5. (Hang in there through all this baseball stuff, BTW.  I’m getting to the fun stuff directly.) The first two games played in San Francisco, the last three, in Cincinatti.  Anyway, we lost the first two games, at home, and headed east knowing we had to sweep three games on the road to advance in the playoffs. Odds are against us, backs to the wall, pick your cliche.  So before game 3, Hunter Pence got up in the locker room and gave a speech.  Sort of shouted it, actually.  Big inspirational ‘we can do this, guys’ kind of speech.  Giants go out there, and got one hit over 9 innings off Homer Bailey.  And the Reds go out in the first and get four hits and a wild pitch.  But a brilliant throw by Buster Posey cut down Brandon Phillips going first to third on the wild pitch, and somehow, Ryan Vogelsong hung in there, held the Reds to just one run.  And in the third, we got a hit batsman, a walk, a bunt and a fly ball and scored the tying run.  In the tenth, Posey got a hit (our second hit of the game), and then Hunter Pence, his legs cramping up so bad he couldn’t stride, fouled off like six pitches then drilled a single to left, hobbling to first.  A passed ball and an error scored our second run, and we won, 2-1.  Brilliant baseball game, and one we had absolutely no business winning, until we did.

So, tough pitching, some clutch hitting, some opportunistic baserunning, that’s how we won. But the guys on the team also credited Pence’s pre-game speech. Hunter Pence hasn’t even been on the team that long.  But we got him in July on a trade, and he’s been a good player on bad teams; this is his chance to shine, and he knows it.  I love Pence anyway.  He throws funny, he runs funny, and he swings the bat funny; how can you not love the guy.  And now add ‘public speaker’ to his resume.

So last night, he did it again. Another inspirational speech. Another unlikely win. Pence has to do it every night now; the team insists. The guys are also all wearing the same clothes they wore to the park the day before, and the day before that, even though they’re getting kinda grody. (Tim Lincecum helpfully suggested that changes in underwear would be permitted.) You don’t want to mess with the magic.

The Giants won the World Series in 2010.  And you can say it was a team with brilliant pitching and just enough clutch hitting, beautifully managed by Bruce Bochy.  But the guys know it was actually the thong.  Aubrey Huff’s wife got him a red thong, and he started wearing it under his uni. And that’s why we won; the thong.  Apparently by the end there, it was pretty gross, pretty gamy.  But, again, he also couldn’t stop wearing it. Obviously. (It was either the thong, or Brian Wilson not shaving).

I’m not remotely superstitious. I’m a rational, twenty-first century, science-loving, PhD holding intellectual. Not superstitious at all.  Nosireebob.

Hah!

I’m a theatre guy.  Who am I kidding; I’m massively superstitious. Don’t walk under stage ladders.  Never say ‘good luck’ to a fellow actor; always ‘break a leg.’  Close the house one night a week, so the ghosts can use it.  Say ‘merde’ under your breath, before entering for any dance number.  I do ’em all.

For one thing, I will not, will not say the name of the Scottish play in a theater. Okay, Macbeth.  The Scottish play.  That one.  It’s haunted. It’s cursed.  People die in productions of the play.  Theatres do the play, and then close.  Famously bad productions have wrecked careers.  It’s especially cursed if you don’t cut Hecate; she’s a minor character whose appearance on stage brings particularly bad ju-ju.

Years ago, I was doing summer stock, and we were doing Alan Ayckbourn’s play, Bedroom Farce.  One of our actors didn’t believe in the Mackers curse.  We were discussing it in the dressing room, and he mocked those of us who do believe in it.  “Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth,” he said.  (I still shudder at the memory.)  He was playing a character who was confined to his bed; his costume was pajamas.  So that very night, he was lying in bed in his pjs, and a ginormous beetle–I’m not kidding, one of those 9-inch, South American jobbers–crawls into bed, up his leg, through the fly of his pajamas, up his chest, through a button on his pj top, and, just as the lights went up, bit his chin.  There he is, on-stage, lights up, with a beetle attached to his face.  His lines flew out of his head, and he just lay there, terrorized, in silence. No one on stage to give him lines.  Finally, he was able to brush off the bug, and stammer something incoherent, but it was a traumatized half minute.  So don’t tell me there’s no such thing as a Scottish play curse!
I mean, seriously, it’s a real thing.  It killed the boy actor who was the first Lady MacB.  It nearly killed Olivier.  Killed half the cast and crew in a John Gielgud production. (Well, it killed the costume designer). And, yeah, okay, it’s a dark play, which means dim lights, with lots of stage combat–plenty of scope for accidents.  But. Come on.  Still. It’s Macbeth.   Bad kismet.
I think part of the problem is that it’s a devilish (rimshot!) hard play to produce.  I mean, it’s got those marvelous witches, and they’re so much fun, you pretty much think you have to use them a lot. But the more you use them, the more it looks like they’re controlling the action of the play, which in turn diminishes Macbeth’s volition.  He becomes a pawn of witches, not a dynamic character making strong (albeit evil) choices. 
I directed it once, a production at my daughter’s school, when she was in fifth grade.  She was a witch, and a darned good one, for an eleven-year-old.  My favorite moment came when she said the line “by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”  But the poor kid playing Mackers was having costume issues, and didn’t enter.  So she sidled up to the wings, and gave him his cue again, louder: “by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes!”  Again, no appearance by Macbeth.  So she went straight to the wing where he was to appear, and shouted: “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked–and stupid–this way comes!”  Enter Macbeth, red-faced. 
Not sure he ever forgave her. 
If by chance, you do say ‘Macbeth’ in a theater, there’s a cleansing ritual you can perform.  You have to leave the theater, turn around three times, spitting (some say over your left shoulder, but I’ve never insisted on that detail), saying either a swear word or reciting a line from some other Shakespeare play, and then knocking on the stage door and humbly begging the other actors to let you in. Essential, though, that you do it right, and don’t mess around.  That’s the thing about superstitions.  If you don’t take them seriously, the consequences can be severe. Stevie Wonder can say ‘superstition ain’t the way’ all he wants to.  But why tempt fate? 
 

4 thoughts on “Superstitious

  1. Julie Saunders

    Remember David Morgan’s production of Hamlet at BYU?

    Well, Tracey Wooley and I were joking around about the Macbeth curse on the stage (though technically backstage) while waiting to enter for our final dress rehearsal. And then we acknowledged that we’d said the name and ooh, we were tempting fate, and wasn’t this all so silly. You know, like they do at the beginning of horror films.

    And then Reese, who was playing Hamlet’s Father, fell off a set of stairs on the set and screwed up his leg and had to quit the show entirely. Opening week, the night before our first preview.

    I have learned my lesson about this one, let me tell you.

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