Theatre Trivia - 'Theatre Terms'

Ever wonder where these theatre terms came from?

HAM:
Meaning
a very bad actor who overplays his part. It is an abbreviation of “hamfat”, 19th century actors’ slang for home-made theatrical make-up, made of pigments mixed with lard (pork fat).

IN THE LIMELIGHT:
Meaning “enjoying attention and fame” – is a reference to a 19th century theatre spotlight that produced an intense, white light by heating a block of calcium carbonate in a flame fueled by mix of oxygen and hydrogen gas.

KNOW THE ROPES:The rigging in a theatre – the rope and pulley system for moving scenery – is modeled on the rigging of a sailing ship. In 17th and 18th century England, stage crews were hired from among the idle sailors of ships in port – people who “knew the ropes”.

BREAK A LEG:If you want to wish an actor good luck, say, “break a leg.” This is not a superstition, but one explanation is that it is an old theatre tradition going back at least to the time of Shakespeare, when “breaking a leg” meant bending one’s knee in a bow to audience applause.

PROP:
In theatre, a “property” or “prop” is any object an actor might pick up and use as part of a performance – such as a book, a sword, a cane, a wine glass, a cup, etc. Stagehands, however, have been known to refer to actors as

“props that eat.”

COSTUME JEWELLERY:
The term comes from the theatre. It refers to specially made “fake” jewellery that is part of a stage costume, there being an old actors’ superstition that it is very bad luck to wear real jewels (or handle real money) on the stage.

GHOST LIGHT:It is bad luck for a theatre to ever be left completely dark. At night, when everyone has gone home, there is always a light – called a “ghost light” – left burning on the stage. Some say it keeps ghosts away; others, that it welcomes them in. Every theatre has its ghosts and it’s an old custom that a theatre must close one night a week to give the ghosts a chance to stage their own plays. This is traditionally a Monday night (which also gives actors a day off after the weekend performances).