Whether someone is a dancer, singer, or another type of performer, they sometimes feel nervous before they hit the stage. The length of time that they have spent in previous performances doesn’t matter.
The most important factor contributing to their nervousness is a desire to do their best. That’s why it’s important to choose the right tone when wishing someone good luck at a performance.
The most established phrase to wish someone good luck at a performance is “Break a leg.” If you are unsure whether it is received positively, it is better to say, “All the best” or more personally, e.g. “Leave it all on the stage, Jon.”
Traditional Theater Blessings
There are a few blessings that are unique to the theater and are used in several countries.
Many actors and dancers have become accustomed to hearing some of these from a young age while in school plays and other junior productions.
Even though dancers may have prepared thoroughly, they feel a little more excited and confident every time someone whispers or shouts any of the following to them:
“Break a leg.”
When you tell someone to break a leg, you don’t literally mean that you want them to break a leg, especially if they’re a dancer.
People commonly tell performers to break a leg when they want them to do well or have success in their show.
Break a leg can be used by family or by friends. Cast members often say that to each other and it helps to boost the spirit of the entire team.
Break a leg is not usually restricted to a particular time and is usually said the last time that you meet with or speak to a person before their show. It can be used right before a show or even a few days before a show when you’re speaking about the upcoming event.
Merde is a way of saying good luck that’s specific to dancers.
‘Merde’ is usually used by professional dancers and is French for bodily waste.
While it may be freely before a performance or whispered on stage, it’s not as commonly used in other contexts where such an expression might be considered vulgar.
“Blow them away.”
Blow them away is easy to use with people of any age.
While merde -because of its meaning – can’t be used with young children and break a leg might occasionally be misinterpreted, blow them away doesn’t carry any restrictions that would make it difficult to use in different contexts.
For example, you can freely use blow them away if you’re on stage giving a speech before a performance.
Using Break A Leg in Theater
Many blessings have been used to wish performers well throughout the years. Break a leg is one of the most popular and it was first documented in the 1920s. This decade is also popularly known as the Jazz Age.
Break a leg was not associated with any particular American theater at that time. However, since the Roaring 20s, it’s remained a popular blessing in several art forms.
Break a leg is reflective of theater superstition. In the theater, it’s often thought that if you want to keep something bad from happening during a performance you should say that thing and the opposite will occur.
This is why other actors will say break a leg. They want to ensure that the opposite will happen and that no one will get injured during a performance. Saying break a leg is also supposed to help keep other mishaps at bay.
Some people who say break a leg are unlikely to ever say good luck. While this may not apply to all the performers who use the former phrase, those who don’t say good luck think that using that phrase will actually bring bad luck.
In other words, they avoid saying good luck because of superstitions that make them feel that saying good luck will bring bad luck to the performance. If you’re backstage and notice that everyone around you is saying good luck, feel free to do the same.
However, if you notice that no one is saying good luck, do as they do and use some other phrase to convey your good wishes.
It’s also said that break a leg had a more friendly origin.
Actors used to say may you break your leg, with the hope that the performer’s show would be such a success that they would have to bend their knee to the audience in acknowledgment of all the congratulations that they would receive.
You can add your own personal message while saying break a leg.
For example, you could say:
“I’m looking forward to hearing you sing today – break a leg.”
“I can’t wait to see the cast in action tonight – break a leg.”
“I’ve been waiting to attend this concert for weeks. Break a leg tonight.”
Using Blow Them Away In Theater
When you tell someone to blow them away, you’re wishing that they will greatly impress the audience. You want the audience to be amazed by what they see and hear.
In other words, the entire experience should be similar to that of an exciting whirlwind.
When someone is blown away they’re taken to another place. They experience something new and incredibly memorable.
When you’re wishing someone success on stage you could say:
“I hope that your new poem will blow them away.”
“Blow them away with your music tonight.”
“I know that you’ll blow them away when they see you dance in this piece.”
Is It Okay to Wish a Person Good Luck Before an Audition?
In terms of an acting career, dancing, and other types of performance, an audition is thought of in the same way as any performance that takes place after an individual has been accepted to a cast.
It’s perfectly acceptable to wish a person good luck before an audition.
It means that you hope that they will do well in the audition and will get the role.
You can say any of the following before an audition:
“Break a leg.”
“All the best.”
Sayings that Include Luck
If the performer is someone who doesn’t have a problem with being wished good luck, you can freely use any of the popular phrases that include luck.
This can help them to be more relaxed before the performance, whether they’re playing an instrument, dancing, or reciting poetry.
You can make them feel more relaxed by saying:
“Good luck with the band tonight Gwen.”
“Best of luck with your poetry reading.”
“I wish you luck with that audience. They’re tough but you’re tougher. They’ll love your jokes.”
Sayings that Avoid Luck and Superstition
Since many performers come from diverse backgrounds and cultures, it’s sometimes helpful to use phrases that don’t mention luck or any other type of traditional theater superstition.
In this case, you might want to keep your wishes for their success to their acting skills or to more general terms that could be used in other situations as well.
You could say:
“All the best.”
“Do your best.”
“Give it everything you’ve got.”
“Leave it all on the stage.”
“Wow the audience tonight.”
Your aim is always to help the performer focus on giving their best performance. Whether they’re playing an instrument, giving a speech, or using some other art form to express themselves, you want them to give their best to the audience.
Encouragement is usually appreciated by anyone who has to face a crowd of people they’ve never seen before. Sometimes a simple thumbs-up can do this effectively.
However, pairing words with your positive gestures makes a double impact. When someone goes on stage they give of themselves and share their energy.
By wishing them success you help to bolster them, even if they’re feeling nervous or worried about how their performance will be received.
Whatever you choose to say should remind them that good things are about to happen. Good things are waiting for them when they step out on stage. That helps to keep their thoughts in the right place.
Find Out What That Particular Performer Likes
Each performer has their own habits that help them to stay grounded. Some may have rituals, whether personal or public, that mean something to them and help them to stay focused while they’re on stage.
If the performer is someone you know well enough to constantly be offering them support before their performances, discuss with them. Find out how they prefer that you tell them good luck.
You may be able to establish a ritual that’s unique to both of you, such as sending flowers or a card before an event.
Some may prefer that you wish them success by using phrases that are more meaningful to them.
This could include:
“This one’s for Aunt Mary.”
“I’m praying for you.”
“Reach for your pot of gold.”
In each case above, the blessing that you use has a specific meaning to them. Even if no one else around you understands, it reminds them of why they’re on stage and what is driving their hard work.
This type of blessing can help them to become more focused during their performance than a more generic blessing such as doing your best would.
Sophie Hammond is a journalist, psychologist, and freelance speechwriter for people in politics and business. She lives on the edge of the Rocky Mountains with her dog and a lifetime supply of books. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through nature or journaling at a coffee shop.