by Jo Barnes –
Today, we turn our attention to the world of theatre. To help us is a special guest, the talented Grace La Stage.
Thank you my darlings. I always love to be in the limelight. By the way, isn’t that a fascinating little phrase? It goes back to the late 1800s, definitely before my time! While some of you might be thinking citrus fruit or the colour green, it actually relates to a scientific discovery by Sir Goldsworthy Gurney. One day he burned calcium oxide, otherwise known as quicklime; it produced an intense white light. Prior to the advent of electricity, the burning of quicklime was a way to illuminate actors on stage. Now, let’s carry on my darlings and shine a light, at least, a metaphoric one, on a few more phrases.
Before going on stage, actors love to hear break a leg! No, this isn’t someone wishing us misfortune: the phrase is based in old theatrical superstitions. Fellow performers would say the opposite of good luck so as to ward off evil spirits and ensure a good outcome. Others believe it originates with the act of “breaking,” or bending one’s knees when taking a bow.
Speaking of bows, I recently performed in a comedy to rave reviews although one of my fellow actors really chewed the scenery. No, there was no food involved my darlings. It simply means that he was overacting. That expression traces back to the late 1800s, when comic actors would involve the very furniture and props around them as part of their act and figuratively devour or “chew” the scenery.
Now it’s one thing to overact, but quite another when that actor tried to upstage me. Oh my dears, are you confused? You need to understand this: downstage is toward and upstage away from the audience. It’s based on the early days of theatre when stages were built with a slope down to the audience. If an actor was away from the audience, or upstage, they were not only elevated but easier to see. As if this wasn’t bad enough, it forced the other actors to turn their backs to talk to that actor, something this performer is loath to do.
Before someone gives me the hook, I’ll close! It’s a phrase from the days of variety entertainment called vaudeville. If you were incompetent enough to receive jeers from the audience, a manager would unceremoniously drag you off the stage by the use of a long hook.
Thank you for being a lovely audience. Join us next time for some “festive phrases!”