Whistling

The tradition goes that it is extremely bad luck to whistle backstage in a theatre.  It is believed that a whistle will cause an injury or that someone will lose their job.  This superstition isn’t as bizarre as it may at first sound.  There was a time when whistling in a theatre could definitely have caused both of these things.  In the early days of theatre a lot of the technical work was carried out by ex-sailors.  Even to this day, some of the terminology used in technical and stage management is borrowed from nautical terms.  For example, the lamps used to light the stage are still collectively referred to as the lighting rig and the technical staff are still known as the crew.  


The reason that whistling could cause such catastrophes was because sailors used whistles to communicate with each other and to cue scenery changes.  Whistling was much clearer and easier than shouting across the deck of a ship sailing through a storm. Similarly, whistles were clear and much less obtrusive than shouting in the middle of a performance.

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 So there was a very real risk that an absent minded whistle could cause a set piece to fly in at the wrong time, possibly injuring someone or, worse still, killing them, and subsequently someone getting sacked.


Nowadays, theatre shows are cued either with lights or, more often than not, the technicians and stage management can talk to each other using radio “cans” or walkie-talkies, so there is no need for whistling.  People continue to be superstitious about whistling in theatres in case there are any ghosts of former stage crew lurking in the fly tower, waiting to drop a stage weight or move scenery at the first sound of an actor whistling to himself in the wings.  


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