Monday, December 04, 2006

Let Characters Smoke, Even If Real People Can't

I know, there is a lot of stuff I should be griping about, but I just haven't had time lately. I got sent this from my identical cousin, who is a playwright and he's all up in arms about it, so I'm posting it here to keep from having to talk to him about it.

An Important message from Theatre Communications Group:

Dear Colleagues,

TCG has been approached to support a legal case on behalf of our member theatre, Denver-based Curious Theatre Company.

This is a First Amendment/Freedom of Expression issue relating to the newly passed Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act which does not allow for the artistic portrayal of smoking. The original suit was denied, and Curious Theatre has appealed this decision. TCG plans to submit an Amicus Brief in support of Curious Theatre Company’s appeal, and has found a First Amendment lawyer who has agreed to take this on pro bono. Bruce Johnson, a member of our National Council for the American Theatre and a trustee of Seattle Repertory Theatre, will write the brief.

Other states with smoking bans, including New York and California, allow exceptions for theatrical purposes. Curious Theatre is seeking to protect the artistic intent of playwrights and theatre companies that include the portrayal of smoking as an integral part of the script.

WE NEED YOUR HELP! We need to provide the Court with a broader context, background and evidence of the use of smoking on the stage as one means of freedom of artistic expression. The issue will be covered in a future edition of American Theatre magazine. Please take a few moments and fill out the survey which we have prepared. The deadline is Friday, December 8, 2006.

This email is being sent to managing directors, artistic directors, dramaturges, literary managers and education directors at all of our member theatres – thank you, in advance, for your assistance!

Feel free to pass on the survey link:


Laurie Baskin
Director of Government & Education Programs
Theatre Communications Group
520 Eighth Avenue, 24 Floor
New York, NY 10018
(212) 609-5900 x228
(212) 609-5901 fax


Blogger Archie Levine said...

I once saw a student production of Glass Menagerie where the guy who got cast as Tom was alergic to cigarette smoke.

Why in God's name you'd audition for the part of a chain smoker, whose smoking is a core character trait because going out on the balcony to smoke is the only escape you have from the confines of your home life until he is finally driven to run away (with the electric bill money) I have no idea, but the guy did and was cast.

And the play suffered so much from pretending to smoke on the balcony that I would have preferred it not have been staged at all.

Add into it the fact that Williams intends for the constant building of smoke on the stage to help reinforce the expressionistic quality of a memory/dream play and you really have the decision to prohibit smoking working counter to the entire intention of the writer.

So, if this ban remains in force without the ability to provide expression for artistic presentation of plays with actual are effectively banning all live performances of plays with incorporate it, or at least banning effective productions that have smoking in them.

If I didn't know better I'd say this was a mean spirited effort to use the liberal anti-smoking agenda against the liberal support the arts movement.

Just sign the petition and show that it is possible for us to have an intelligent application of the law. Afterall, it was designed to protect us from lung cancer, and not from theatre.

12:37 PM  
Blogger frstlymil said...

My sister and I wrote a satiric noir piece for a festival, and noir and smoking go somewhat hand in hand - we almost had to cancel the show - they claimed fire marshall issues. We got our way and the show went on - but it was a might scary.

Generally speaking, in California - where you can't even smoke outside, let alone inside in some places, what's done is the actors smoke herbal, rather than tobacco cigarettes if the script calls for smoking, and a sign is posted on the door of the theatre that states that there will be cigarette smoking during a portion of the performance - the same way they announce that there will be strobe lights if a show has those and don't want to send some epileptic audience member into a seizure. In intimate theatre settings, this gives the audience member a choice to sit further back in the theatre - or perhaps opt out and go to a revival of yet another Neil Simon play. Oh wait. Neil Simon plays have smoking. Nevermind.

At ACT in San Francisco - I've seen them simply hold the match up to cigarettes and "act" them lit - without actually lighting them and it is left up to the experience of theatre and suspension of disbelief. I think it's up to the company to work through. I know one theatre company - known for its hard drinking - that if beer was called for onstage, they actually broke all theatrical rules and would drink real beer onstage because they argued that audience members would never buy the sound of the can opening in "prop cans".

7:00 AM  

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