Who Were They?

Lost and forgotten photos from the past

Grand finale?

Grand finale?

Do you applaud after a great play’s finale or do you pound your chair into the ground so much the leg breaks off? When the curtain is pulled aside and the actors rush in, do the “legs” of the theater break? Is there a gladiator you wish to keep his life rather than to perish in a grand spectacle, and so you wish he would just break a leg and be eliminated?

These and more are theorized as the origination of the idiom “break a leg” which is wished on an actor prior to a performance. Although the photo above is clearly of a play and there do not appear to be any broken legs, there is a cute little kid with an accordion. Although it is unidentified, this photo says The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, to me.

But, back to the breaking of the leg. It is said that in the theater, it is bad luck to wish someone good luck on stage, and so you wish someone bad luck in the hopes that they have good luck! Apparently, stage actors of previous centuries were quite superstitious. Thanks to Wikipedia, we have a variety of origin stories for this phrase, but there were not many written apocryphal references, only modern ones. The phrase may have come about in the 1920s, as understudies wishing the lead actor would become injured, thereby bringing up the understudy.

No matter the origin, “break a leg” is a means to wish an actor good luck. For more actors from far and wide, click over to Sepia Saturday. You will be happy you did!

Treading the boards

13 thoughts on “Break a leg

  1. I don’t understand theatre people. In German they wish you to break your neck as well (hals- und beinbruch), and in Dutch they utter the even incomprehensible ToiToiToi.


  2. IntenseGuy says:

    Regardless of any leg-breaking, this gang seems to be having a lot of fun!!


  3. La Nightingail says:

    “Break a leg” is indeed a common wish for an actor. There is also the phrase “Bad rehearsal, good performance”. That one makes a little more sense. If the rehearsal is bad, actors go home and review their lines, or choral singers, their music – thus the performance will likely be better. In addition, singers, after a bad rehearsal, are more apt to WATCH THE DIRECTOR – a common failing of choral singers which choral directors everywhere will attest to!


  4. The little accordion player steals the show in this photo. The ensemble definitely have a fairy tale style, but I see the classic damsel in distress story with the dastardly villain and hapless hero. No one on crutches so perhaps all went well in rehearsals.


  5. Little Nell says:

    The shy accordion player peeping out from behind the curtains makes this picture!


  6. Boobook says:

    I enjoyed this blog post. Thanks.


  7. Dee says:

    I never knew the origin of the phrase until now. Thanks for sharing that.



  8. Colleen says:

    My husband & I must be careful to never wish our daughter good luck before a performance!


  9. hmchargue says:

    Oh yes, the little accordion player is adorable. Is he anxious to get on the stage for the next act or reluctant to get off from the one before? The group looks delightfully hammy!


  10. Jo in Melbourne Aus says:

    In Australian theatre they say ‘Chookas’ to mean good luck – I’m not sure of the origin of this expression :-)


  11. postcardy says:

    I think I would rather have someone tell me “good luck” than “break a leg.”


  12. Karen S. says:

    I’ve always wondered about that break a leg thing, and know it’s for good luck, maybe because by saying it, it won’t happen and all will be well, that’s a silly logic, but best of all, they do appear to be having a fabulous time!


  13. I once wished and actor “Good luck with the play” and then realized what I’d said. I froze hoping the moment would pass. Fortunately the play did very well and he won a posthumous award for his direction.


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