Ever since 2003 when New York City banned smoking in enclosed public spaces, theater directors have been walking a thin line between artistic freedom and legal necessity. Under a special exemption for the arts, theaters are allowed to use tobacco-free cigarettes -- usually sweet-smelling herbal cigarettes....Geez, I know! If only they knew they were doing their own lungs more harm with their "protest-coughing" than any herbal whiff could ever do. (I actually have a theory these people just don't know they're herbals! They tend to be old and/or not very theatre savvy.)
But while herbal smoke generally doesn't linger on the audience as much as the tobacco equivalent, theater staff admit that some audience members see it as an intrusion from a less socially aware time.
"In a small theater, or where the audience surrounds the stage, the audience is always out of control as soon as a cigarette is pulled out," says [stage manager Barclay Stiff].
"Some people really do get worked up," reports Bartlett Sher, the director of Tony-nominated South Pacific.
"You will hear people coughing their lungs out on purpose as soon as an actor lights a single cigarette."
But before I get too down on the anti-smokers (and I'm not even a smoker myself)...isn't it wild to think of the days--not too long ago, mind you--when you could have everyone on stage smoking, real cigarettes, and in the audience?
Does anyone out there know when smoking in the house was banned on Broadway?