The Playgoer: The Smoking Ruling

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Smoking Ruling

For those of you following this, a set-back for that onstage smoking case in Denver, as a judge refused to allow an exemption for theatre performances in the city's comprehensive public ban.

[Judge] Martinez ruled the act of smoking, even in performance, "is not inherently an expressive behavior," and therefore does not qualify for free-speech protections under the U.S. constitution.

Well I think we all know a few actors who would disagree. But I digress...

I couldn't resist chuckling over this bit of courtroom "drama":
Things grew equally dramatic when the plaintiffs chose to demonstrate for the judge the inadequacy of fake cigarette alternatives. But this strategy backfired when Theatre 13's Judson Webb puffed into a simulated plastic cigarette, shooting a brief blue burst of talcum into the air. Webb said such devices lack believability, in part because the devices cannot depict a continual burn, and create a "massive distraction" for audiences.

Yet in his ruling, Martinez said Webb's simulated act looked real enough for him.

Indeed, need not all modern commercial theatre simply "look real enough" to satisfy...

2 comments:

J. Kelly said...

What I wonder is why actors unions haven't already demanded that actual cigarette smoking be banned from productions. I mean, they do cause cancer and all it would take to get addicted is a month-long run of a show where you smoke every night...

What hard-on-his-luck actor would turn down a role that involved smoking, or have the courage to ask for the smoking to be taken out or "faked" (ie. acted)? The rationale for banning cigarette smoking in bars is not that it harms the patrons -- who have agreed to enter the premises -- but that it harms the employees, whose choice is between second-hand smoke or being unemployed.

As for Webb's assertion that fake cigarettes create a "massive distraction" for audiences, it seems a bit much. I mean, the very act of being an audience member involves suspension of disbelief. They can deal with a bunch of singing cats, but a simulated cigarette is too much for them?

As for someone like me, who is allergic to cigarette smoke, I find the actual smoking of cigarettes on stage to be a distraction -- at least when the stage area is not well ventilated. (Certainly, in small black boxes.)

Personally, I blame the Method. There's an obsession with "realism" in American theatre that is taken to ludicrous ends when a director argues that not smoking a poisonous drug onstage is too big a sacrifice to artistic integrity...

nick said...

I had this same argument with my whining little brother when he visited last month. I said to him:

"You know what Marlboro Man, someday I am going to pry that cigarette from your dead cancer hand. But until I do, quit blowing your second hand smoke in my face. And quit blowing it into my apartment, my restaurant, my theatre. My public space in my city, not yours, asshole! So put that into your civil liberty pipe and smoke it. But smoke it somewhere else. I don't want to hear that stupid argument again."

But then I suddenly realized that I wasn't really talking to my little brother. I was talking to an actor in a play. And I, too, was an actor on stage. He was playing the Eugene O'neill-like character and I was his older brother Jamie Tyrone. We were drunk. I mean, we were playacting drunk. I think we were acting, anyway. But the cigarette was real. And I just knew what this asshole "brother" of mine had planned. As if on cue, he was going to take a deep drag off the cigarette and blow it right into my face. Oh, and you better believe, I was more than ready for that one.