SuperstitionEvery profession has its superstitions, but none more so than show business. I grew up backstage, and my earliest lessons centered on what NOT to do.

It was considered unlucky to whistle in the dressing room. Whoever was standing near the door would probably die, or worse, get the sack. So to appease the Theatre Gods, the whistler would have to stand outside the dressing room door, turn round three times, and say “white rabbits.

Passing another performer on the stairs could also result in something dire, like a sandbag falling on your head from the flies, and so we would have to employ another spell breaker, touching the other person’s shoulder and saying “white rabbits” very quickly. It worked every time. As far as I can recall, no one was ever hit with a sandbag at any of the theatres we played.

All of this emphasis on white rabbits had nothing to do with the mating habits of theatricals “ the staple item in a magician’s repertoire is the white rabbit, traditionally a lucky animal.

Some of the other superstitions must have caused real headaches for costume designers. Green was a detestable color backstage, and this rule was applied rigidly to circus performers. One Irish circus owner was aghast to find an imported troupe of tumblers parading around the ring dressed from head to toe in shamrock green. After all, it was well known that the God of Circuses loathed green and would send a cyclone to flatten the tent that very night. The troupe were amazed at his reaction “ they had thought they were merely showing courtesy by dressing in the host country’s national color.

Quoting Macbeth backstage is said to bring awful calamity. You may as well close the theatre and whisk the cast off to the nearest fallout shelter. I often wondered how they got on during rehearsals, when there would be bound to be at least one unprincipled ham standing about in the wings muttering his lines to himself.

Ghosts abound in the Bard’s plays, but they are a mere drop in the thespic ocean compared to the phantoms that haunt old English theatres. One was even said to be haunted by the ghost of an entire audience, felled by fowl fish from the chippie next door.

However, the simplest explanation for the existence of theatre ghosts was given to me by an agent “ they are merely actors waiting to be paid.

The Collins Music hall in London, which burned down many decades ago, was said to be the most haunted theatre in England. One much feared spirit rattled about the gallery and was regarded as something of a critic. Legend said that if you caught sight of him while performing on stage, you would immediately drop dead.

Certain songs were banned backstage. Irish ballads seemed particularly cursed. Perhaps some unfortunate tenor was impaled on a prop spear while warbling The Rose of Trallee, because there would be howls of protest if anyone hummed even a bar.

When  I came to Australia, I foolishly imagined that all these pragmatic Aussies would be too sensible for such nonsense. But no “ strolling round a showground humming The Londonderry Air, I was accosted by a hairy chested, six foot showman.

“Don’t sing that, it’s bad luck! he boomed. “Someone will die.

“White Rabbits, I said.