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Feeling Superstitious: Flowers and the Theatre

A bouquet of bright red roses sit on a table, surrounded by green leaves.
Roses are a traditional flower given to actors for a great performance.

This past month on the blog, we looked at some of the superstitions that have been part of theatre for generations. We reflected on both the history and culture that might have shaped these beliefs. This week, we take our final bow in the series and examine some of the taboos between flowers and the stage.   

The gift of flowers now seems to be synonymous with the performing arts. Many people have the image of a performer being rewarded with waves of red roses collecting at their feet. However, there is a reason why flowers are given at the end of a performance. Like many of the superstitions that have been previously explored on our blog, fate has an influence. As flowers indicate a successful performance, giving an actor a bouquet of flowers before the curtain falls could tempt fate for accidents and mishaps. The exception to this rule is giving actors flowers prior to opening night. These flowers can be received by actors in their dressing rooms as tokens from friends and families. 

There are also stipulations on the type of flowers that can be used in the theatre. Live flowers typically were not used in theatrical productions because they would wilt under the harsh lighting of the stage; it was also believed that the drooping flowers would take the life of the performance along with them.  

While the simultaneous death of a performance and a set decoration was a concern for many in the theatre, mortality had another role in the history of giving flowers. A common source for flowers used to be graves. These funeral flowers were given to the leading lady and the director on closing night of a production, connecting the death of the show with mortuary flowers. There was also a practical reasoning behind these flowers. Actors in the past were infrequently and inadequately compensated for their labor. Pulling flowers from gravesites and cemeteries was an inexpensive way to get gifts for cast members and crew.  

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