The Playgoer: Judges: Stop Blowing Smoke, Actors!

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Judges: Stop Blowing Smoke, Actors!

A suprisingly dramaturgically sensitive Colorado appeals court has nevertheless rejected an appeal by three Denver theatre troupes to strike down a state law banning smoking--even herbals--on stage.

A Colorado appeals court ruled on Thursday that smoking by an actor on stage, while possibly important to character and theatrical message, is still banned by the state's two-year-old indoor smoking law.

"The smoking ban was not intended to prevent actors from expressing emotion, setting a mood, illustrating a character trait, emphasizing a plot twist or making a political statement," a three-member panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals said in its unanimous ruling, upholding a lower court's verdict.

But, the court added, "smoking, by itself, is not sufficiently expressive to qualify for First Amendment protection."

I think the theatres have a fair argument--in a libertarian way (Don't want second hand smoke? Don't see our show!) But I was impressed by this challenge by the judges:

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals said that theaters were already in the business of make-believe, and that barring smoking was essentially no different from barring the use of illegal drugs or real violence.

"Murders are not committed, actors do not fire live bullets at each other or at the audience, the theater is not set afire to illustrate the burning of Rome in 'Julius Caesar,' " the court said. "The audience is aware that the scenes are not real."

Wow, what a great theatre-semiotics question!

Just one thing, your honors--Julius Caesar? Rome burning? Wrong play!!! (In fact, wrong medium. I think you're thinking of Quo Vadis!)


Anonymous said...

Actually, Playgoer, Rome does indeed burn in Julius Caesar.

At the end of Antony's famous funeral oration, the enraged citizens run riot and burn at least the homes of the conspirators:

First Plebeian:
We'll burn his [i.e. Caesar's] body in the holy place / And with the brands fire the traitors' houses. / Take up the body.

Second Plebeian:
Go fetch fire.

That's III,ii,250 and following; see also III.iii,33, after the murder of Cinna the poet:

Third Plebeian:
Come, brands, ho! Fire-brands! To Brutus', to Cassius', burn all!

Lovely to know there's a judge in Colorado who knows his Shakespeare.


George Lane
(representing the Estate of W. Shakespeare)

Playgoer said...

Well, I am humbled, "George Lane."

Embarrassing since I thought that was a play I knew inside out. I guess I just assumed the judges were making some "Nero fiddling while Rome burned" reference.

Fair to say, though, that the spectacle of Rome burning (indicated off stage) is not one usually STAGED in productions of JC, right?

Anonymous said...

True, the burning of Rome happens offstage, and I don't know of any productions that bring it down center. But many directors incorporate fire into the sequence, especially in the "Cinna the poet" section: Plebeians bearing torches or other burning embers in period productions; throwing Malotov cocktails etc. in modern-dress ones.


G. Lane

Playgoer said...

It's come to my attention that the above commenter is in all probability NOT George Lane the famed agent to playwright stars. I guessed as much from the humorous tone, as I'm sure did you. But just wanted to put that on the record for Mr. Lane's sake, since the commenter has used it elsewhere here as well.