Interesting trivia about the world of the theatre
We thought it was about time we offered some of our favourite curious facts about plays and drama, so what follows are twenty of the funniest or most fascinating nuggets from the theatre. So if you’ve taken your seat, we’ll dim the lights and raise the curtain on these interesting theatre facts.
In 1782, a lady named Mrs Fitzherbert died laughing at a performance of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera at the theatre.
When Shakespeare’s Globe burned down in 1613, the one casualty was a man whose breeches caught fire; they were put out with a bottle of ale.
If you say ‘Macbeth’ in a theatre, you are meant to walk three times in a circle anti-clockwise, then either spit or say a rude word.
A precursor to the film Shakespeare in Love was an 1804 story by Alexandre Duval in which the Bard falls for an actress playing Richard III.
The first recorded instance of a woman playing Hamlet was Charlotte Charke (1713-1760).
What should the theatre be? The theatre should be full. – Giuseppe Verdi
The word ‘exsibilation’ refers to an audience’s practice of hissing a bad performer off the stage; it first appears in a work of 1640.
A ‘deuteragonist’ is the second actor or person in a drama, after the protagonist. It’s first recorded in 1855 in a book by G. H. Lewes.
The word ‘background’ originally denoted the part of the stage farthest from the audience; it first appears in a play by William Wycherley.
‘Scenario’ originally denoted the front of a classical theatre; it first appears in English in the diary of John Evelyn (1620-1706).
I love acting. It is so much more real than life. – Oscar Wilde
Thespis is credited with being the person who invented the idea of the actor. It is from him that we get ‘thespian’.
At high school, The Catcher in the Rye author J. D. Salinger was so fond of acting that he signed the yearbook with the names of the roles he’d performed.
Thomas Hardy’s only acting role was a walk-on part in a pantomime at Covent Garden.
Molière died after collapsing on stage while acting in one of his own plays – ironically, he was playing the role of the hypochondriac.
The scenery was beautiful – but the actors got in front of it. – Alexander Woollcott
When asked for some advice on a particular role, J. M. Barrie told an actor, ‘Try to look as if you had a younger brother in Shropshire.’
In May 1849 the Astor Place riot broke out in New York – it was caused by two actors arguing over who was better at performing Shakespeare.
The first known instance of the expression ‘the plot thickens’ is in George Villiers’ 1671 play The Rehearsal. The same play also features the phrase ‘hip-hop’.
In the years following the Roman empire, women were allowed to act in plays. Women would not be allowed on the English stage until 1660. In ancient Rome, there were a number of famous actresses, including one of Emperor Nero’s concubines, Acte.
Trilby and fedora hats both took their names from plays first performed in the nineteenth century.
In 1944, K. O. Newman wrote a book, 250 Times I Saw a Play, which fails to mention what the play was, who wrote it, or who acted in it.
If you enjoyed these interesting facts about drama and theatre, check out our compendium of interesting facts about words.
Image: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London (picture: Sourav Niyogi), via Wikimedia Commons.