An old Broadway tradition has a brand new name: The “Gypsy Robe,” part of an opening night ceremony dating back to 1950, will now be called the “Legacy Robe.”
The name change, prompted by sensitivities to the term “gypsy,” was announced today by Actors’ Equity Association. Equity members chose the new name through a survey.
“The Legacy Robe reminds us why our tradition exists,” said Mary McColl, Equity’s Executive Director. “It emphasizes the history of Chorus performers, their years of dedication and hard work and just how essential they are to every Broadway musical.”
In a Broadway opening night ritual that began in 1950, the Robe (or a Robe, since more than a few have retired to the Smithsonian, Equity, Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts, and the Museum of the City of New York) is passed from musical to musical, bestowed upon a chorus member who then conducts a very specific good-luck routine.
After circling the stage three times, with cast members touching the garment for luck, the Robe-wearer visits each dressing room to, as Equity puts it, “bless” the show. Each production sews a decorative panel representing the show onto the Robe.
Though the term “gypsy” has long been used in Broadway circles as a synonym for the wandering, show-to-show chorus and ensemble performers, the word, traditionally used in reference to the Romani people, has in more recent years been considered a pejorative.
“While the original name was intended by members to be an honorific, the name change was made to recognize that the usage of the former name no longer has that impact, but is instead insensitive,” said Equity in a statement today. “As a Union for actors and stage managers, Equity has an obligation to lead by example on this issue.”
Equity arrived at the new name following what it describes as a multi-step process that included votes and input from the union’s National Council, its Advisory Committee on Chorus Affairs and its National Equal Employment Opportunity Committee. Members then voted on the name change in a survey that began in April.
“The ceremony on opening night will go on like it has for years,” McColl said, “and I look forward to celebrating another season’s long serving Chorus performers with recognition of their professionalism as they receive the Legacy Robe.”
The first show to receive the newly named Legacy Robe will be Head Over Heels, the musical with Go-Go’s tunes, opening July 26 at the Hudson Theatre. Among the recent Robe wearers was Afra Hines, pictured above, of Broadway’s Donna Summer musical Summer.