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July 08, 2008


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um...also don't kids copy "cool" things? fake Frankie Valli not smoking is not cool. cause...guess what else isn't cool? that effin' show. WHICH REMINDS ME! can we figure out which of the boomers is referring to herself as a child? cause you know that my 30-ish year old ass was the youngest there. children don't want to see that crap. shhhhhh! don't tell my boyfriend.


The issue of space is certainly worth discussing, but then you might also want to deal with issues of duration. Somebody in the discussion referred to a play in which a cigarette is lit for ten seconds specifically as a power play against another character.

I can see why you wouldn't want to do 12 Angry Men in a shoebox space, but can the above mentioned play happen in that space?

I will also say, speaking as a playwright, that ordinances like this are crippling to my ability to write the stories and characters I wish to write, if I'm aware that I'm writing for a venue subject to the smoking ban.

Speaking of which, hope you enjoyed this year's Pulitzer winner, because in the worst-case scenario, you'll never see it again in Chicago.


Eep! You caught me on one of the few issues about which I consider myself pretty conservative. Me, I like the smoking ban. I'm asthmatic and a bit allergic to smoke so being able to breathe in a bar after say, 8:30 p.m. is a real plus. When I went out I used to resign myself to smelling like a freakin' ashtray afterwards no matter where I went or how briefly I stayed, and if I stayed for a long time I usually had laryngitis or would start getting a cold the next day. But it's not the patrons of the bars (or the theatres) that I feel most sympathy for- it's the employees. The bartenders and waitstaff of course- but I also really felt for performers who had gigs and the piano bars and cabaret venues in town. In Gentry on Halsted, they used to keep ashtrays ON THE PIANO. I sing pretty well, but I never even tried to get a bar gig pre-smoking ban, because I knew there was no way my voice would hold up for four hours with people blowing smoke in my face. Some people have voices made out of cast iron and can take that kind of abuse- good for them. But they shouldn't have to, and now in Chicago they don't. Bottom line is, making someone else breathe the smoke that was just in your lungs and came out of your mouth is rude. Smoking in a small space forces everyone else there, even if it's a public space or they've *paid* to be there, to either breathe your nasty smoke, or leave; I view it as an act of breathtaking (oh God, no pun intended) arrogance. I agree that at Jersey Boys the smoke shouldn't actually bother any of the audience due to the distance- but I'm surprised none of the actors have spoken up. I think the most important thing to consider if distance isn't a factor is the wishes and the well-being of the actors that have to actually puff on the cancer-sticks. Maybe this was already taken into consideration- one of the commenters at Chris's blog said they were already using herbal, which is something, at least. It sucks to have to resign yourself to sucking on something that you know for sure will contribute to your cancer risk, just for an acting job. To be asked to do that for a storefront gig, where you're not even getting well paid for it or health insurance, is absurd. And to be asked to put up with that as an audience member who paid good money to be there is just crazy talk. In my opinion the most anyone should ever have to smoke on stage is an herbal cigarette, for the visual effect if that's absolutely necessary to the piece. But physical well being should trump art in this instance- we want to grow our audience, not make them sick. And it's worth pointing out that some of us in the contemporary audience have changed so that rather than cigarette smoking having that intended artistic effect, it merely jolts us out of the piece and diminishes our enjoyment, especially if we're having to breathe it in too. I have to ask, just because no good examples are coming to mind- are there really that many stage plays in which smoking is actually artistically VITAL to the piece? Yes, it can help create a feeling of period veracity. There might be a joke or two that has to fall by the wayside. But 'Jersey Boys' is about four musicians, not four guys who smoke. The music will still be as good- maybe better, minus the smoke on the actors' vocal cords. We don't have actors using real bullets on stage. And we don't have actors doing real cocaine onstage if the play deals with drugs (at least I hope not...). If we're accepting that we're seeing a play and agreeing to suspend our disbelief anyway, 90% of the time what's the big honking deal with having the cigarettes be fake or ditching the ciggies altogether? Under the right circumstances, instead of inhibiting creativity this restriction might foster it. For example- in the play Bilal cites, how can the director, playwright and/or actors show that power play happening if the guy can't light up? Lots of ways. And now they get to use their creativity to solve that problem. My usual disclaimer: I acknowledge this isn't the only way to look at things. But this is what makes sense to me. Just my two (thousand) cents.


Ed - I've actually had to change something in a play of mine due to a smoking restriction, and you're right, it forced me to write something I prefer, although the reasons I had for the cigarette being lit in the first place were not considered lightly. But I'm only me, and other playwrights have the right to take issue when somebody asks them to change their work only for reasons of logistical, not artistic, merit (see also last year's Little Dog Laughed flap).

The issue for me is in the way it restricts the ability to write certain situations even if that situation is the best one for the story being told. I'm working on a play that begins outside a rural machinery shop with two guys on a smoke break. That's not an abnormal occurrence in the world today, and for the conversation they're about to have, there's no better setting for them to be having it.

(And I'm going to finish the play because I need to, but I'll have to accept that it won't get produced in Chicago while even herbal cigarettes are banned.)

And what do you do with characters who are based on people you actually know? What do you do when the play is about your chain-smoking uncle who is dying of emphysema due to his chain-smoking but he won't quit now because he figures he's bought it anyway? If the authenticity of this actual human being is important to you, you have to write this character with the cigarettes and all.

By the by, I find the whole "real bullets" and "real cocaine" arguments maddening. Faking being shot or to sniff baking soda through a straw is a lot easier to pull off than it is to make an unlit cigarette look like it's being smoked. It doesn't smoke, it doesn't ash, it doesn't change the manner in which the actor is forced to breathe. You can't chain-smoke unlit cigarettes.

By the by, I'm not a smoker, and never have been. I stopped going to certain bars because I couldn't keep enough Febreze in my home to kill the odor in my clothes. And the habit is currently killing people I love dearly and I wish they'd stop. But I'm not going to stop writing characters who smoke, if smoking is something that character would actually do.


The examples you give do sound like valid artistic reasons to have (herbal cigarette) smoking onstage. The thing that still gets me is that if those plays are produced in a storefront, the audience still has to breathe it in too. Hard to figure out a solution. Putting up signs/ notices on websites? I feel like not enough theatres give people notice that there's smoking in the show before they buy tickets- though maybe they do and I'm just not looking for it closely enough. Past a certain point, all the warnings and disclaimers we have to put on things these days get a little silly. But "be advised, several herbal cigarettes are smoked in this show" makes more sense to me than "caution, this coffee may be hot." I have to admit that even in spite of my (obvious from the first post) personal distaste for it, I've never walked out of a show because people in it were smoking (or called the cops for that matter). I'd feel like a jerk, and if I enjoy a play enough I can overlook the discomfort. Plus if you want to hang out with actors at all you're pretty much guaranteed at least a little second-hand smoke inhalation.


I think disclaimers about gunshots, strobe lights, nudity, and smoking is probably the best of a bunch of not-completely-satisfying solutions...and that city ordinances is one of the worst. I'm a big proponent of personal responsibility and knowing one's own limits, as well as understanding that your limits may not necessarily be others' limits, and that this doesn't mean that my limits are more valid than yours.

If you have a three year-old strapped to your hip for the next four weeks, you can't go see Skin in Flames or Blasted. And if you have asthma, you can't go see Random Sam Shepard Play in the Live Bait Bucket. It's unfortunate for you, but why extrapolate that into forcing the production to cater to that person's whims?

I'll add, however, that this is also the responsibility of the venue to consider from a fiscal point of view. If enough people refuse to see Smokey Smokerton, The Man Who Smoked at the side project, then the side project made an error in choosing to produce it, and their consequences will come in the form of red ink on their budget.


"Smokey Smokerton, The Man Who Smoked"

Bilal, how did you know the name of the play I was writing? :)

Mike from Philly

I'm not entirely sure what my opinion is on the issue of smoking onstage, though I do think patrons should have ample warning if it's going to be done.

However, I do think we need to come up with a better way of warning people about gunshots. Too often an ending or a climactic moment is ruined for me, because I am anticipating a gunshot and not paying attention to the show. I know my theatre company has started saying that our productions contain "sudden loud noises" when we have a gunshot, but I feel like there has to be a better way of wording that.


Good point, Mike. "Loud noises" seems to be a decent compromise, although, to paraphrase Chekhov, once you see that gun on the mantle, wouldn't you know anyway?

After receiving a number of e-mailed complaints about anti-Bush and anti-war statements in a few performances of "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," we began dryly joking that the theater should post a disclaimer warning that "The show may contain opinions that are different than your own."

Kerry Reid

Anyone who supports the smoking ban on the basis of "It's about HEALTH!," but who also drives an automobile on a regular basis? That person needs to STFU.

Cuz that shit coming out of your tailpipe and into my (nondriving, public-transit-taking, pedestrian) lungs and the atmosphere? Is way more harmful to public and planetary health in the long run than some pseudo-Frankie lighting up for a few seconds.

Or at the very least, if you do drive because you have no choice, but would prefer to waste your breath (pun intended) being a Special Snowflake and complaining about a few seconds of stage smoke, rather than this country's appalling lack of commitment to clean energy and public transit, you're a hypocrite of a high order. Or odor.


Two wrongs don't make a right, Kerry. I agree you have a point about driving, but that doesn't make smoking okay.


Hey Mike from Philly- I just thought of the sign that solves your problem:

"This production may have profanity, nudity, smoking, intense and adult situations, strobe lighting or gunfire....or it might not. If you come in, you'll find out."

Have that permanently installed on the door no matter what show is being done. And do you really want audience members that are going to seriously be deterred by those things anyway? :)

Mike from Philly

Ed - I like the way you think.


I'll also say that in terms of the "health of the actor" argument, frankly, there are enough of us out there who are willing to take certain risks and forgo certain others, and we should be good enough to say that we know we can't take certain roles if they go beyond our comfort level.

The 500 Clown folks work entirely in the realm of physical risk; if you aren't willing to go to the lengths they do in performance then you have no business in a 500 Clown show. Similarly, if you aren't willing to smoke a cigarette for the role you're pursuing, you shouldn't pursue that role.

(And if the company can't find anybody willing to smoke the cigarette? Well, tough for them. That's why you consider these things before you slate the show for production.)

The whole thing should, essentially, be self-policing based on the laws of supply and demand.

Kerry Reid

Ed, my point is that many people who get precious and outraged over a few seconds of stage smoke that may or may not creep into their airspace don't seem to have a problem leaving the theater and getting into their cars for a drive back to the suburbs on clogged expressways. (This isn't directed at you personally, BTW.) And I suspect many of them don't really give a shit about the health of the actors, but are using them as a smokescreen, if you will (the usual "Won't someone think of the CHILDREN?" line of reasoning -- and since actors are routinely infantilized in our national mindset, perhaps that makes some rough sense).

When San Francisco passed its smoking ban on bars while I was there, lots of people were yammering about "We need to protect the health of the bartenders and waitresses." (I am actually okay with banning smoking in bars and restaurants -- I am not a smoker -- though moreso for the latter than the former. No one would mistake a bar for a health club, after all, and I kinda think that it should be left at the discretion of the bar owners if they want to let people smoke or not, but that battle is lost.) Anyhow, one commenter in the SF Chronicle pointed out that no one ever started a movement based on "We need to protect the lungs of the people in the toll booths on the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges who are breathing in carbon monoxide from cars and trucks all day. So let's all pay higher bridge tolls to buy them gas masks." Similarly, I don't see a national movement to put some teeth back into OSHA regulations to protect the safety and health of all workers. So yes, two wrongs don't make a right, but it's probably more beneficial to focus one's energy on the greater environmental wrong. But that would actually take sustained effort and lifestyle adjustments (and possibly -- gasp! -- money!) beyond whining to theater management about stage smoke getting in one's precious airspace from yards and yards away in the SchLaSalleBofA Theatre Emporium.

That said, I think warning signs in the lobby and program are a fine cost-effective way to let the buyer beware. (If only we had signs that read "Warning: This play contains contrived situations and hackneyed characters.")

I'm wondering if anyone reading this has hired an actor for a part that required smoking and then had the actor balk? Or if there is an actor reading this who turned down a part because of the smoking issue? How did you handle it? I know Equity can help negotiate situations where a union actor feels that he or she is being asked to do something potentially dangerous, but in non-Equity, it's all about working it out as best you can. How have other people worked it out?


Laughing at myself because I was having trouble coming up with examples of smoking being artistically vital- how about when the exhalation of smoke is actually part of a song's choreography?


Struck me as a grin-inducing example regardless of one's stance on the matter.

Mark Jeffries

After a little Googling, I found the reason for the 128 comments on Chris' "Jersey Boys" smoking item and it's the usual reason anything gets over 100 comments on blogs or forums that don't get that high a volume: It got Drudged. I only had to read a few comments to know that the usual gang of wingnut crazies were out in force and I haven't checked back since (even though I had two days in New York away from the Internet as a reason, as well). You read one crazed off topic attack on Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Keith Olbermann or Rosie O'Donnell, you've read them all (yes, I'm sure Chris modded them off).

Meanwhile, a nearly-packed house on Wednesday night went apeshit over "August: Osage County" and Amy Morton and Mariann Mayberry are still kicking ass and taking names (in fact, it's the best performance I've ever seen from Mayberry, who's not exactly been my favorite Steppenwolfer in the past). And on Thursday night "Adding Machine" is going into the homestretch looking great (yes, this was catchup time for me). Jeff Still is playing the boss in the homestretch and Cyrilla, Joel and Amy are in high gear. Unfortunately, we're losing Amy and Cyrilla to New York, but maybe they'll find out they'd rather be in Chicago sooner or later.

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  • Kris Vire
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