Thursday, July 10, 2008

smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics

Some hub bub all over the Teatrico De Interwebs on Chris Jones's Blog and the Time Out Chicago Blog about the Jersey Boys getting busted for smoking and the new push for an amendment to the smoking ban to allow smoking on stage, but with all sorts of strings attached (like, it would be a show-by-show basis and you'd have to mention the show contains smoking on the posters. What. The. Crap?).

A few of my plays contain smoking. My play Killing Women has smoking. When Theatre Seven produced it last summer, we had to use pussyfooting herbal cigarettes that are totally stupid-smelling. They smell like pot... but not really like pot. Herbals smell like stupid pot. The smell of an herbal cigarette is confusing. But there was smoking in the play because the character had to smoke.

GWEN: (offstage) Are you smoking?
ABBY: (she is) Maybe.
GWEN: Please don’t smoke.
ABBY: The window’s open.
GWEN: I don’t want Tess to think that smoking is cool.
ABBY: Smoking is cool.

But -- the smoking issue (even before the Chicago ban) has changed the way I write. Now, I don't write plays that require smoking because I know, one of these days, some theatre might stage the scene above in a way that Abby never lights the cigarette. Will the humor still work? I don't know. Without the smoking, it's not the scene I wrote. I worked with a theatre in San Francisco whose Artistic Director said to me I should seriously consider cutting the smoking out of one of my plays because theatres in California are hippie-dippie about including smoking on stage.

There's an artistic issue too. A lot of actors don't smoke. Most actors who don't smoke will learn to smoke for a role because they want to play the part, even if they are not a smoker. I can tell if somebody on stage is not a smoker. There's an unnaturalness to the movements. The inhale, the exhale. It looks forced. Smoking can become something that separates the actor from the character. What removes me from a play is not: "oh my god, that person is smoking and I'm going to get cancer and die tomorrow." It's more: "that actor has no fucking clue how to smoke a cigarette."

I don't smoke, but I like seeing good smoking in plays. I like smelling a play. My fingers are crossed for a waiver in Chicago. And if I never again write smoking on the stage, I can still write wholesome plays about raging alcoholics who beat their children because iced tea looks like whiskey.