A New York Times piece that will appear in the Daily News' Sunday's Arts section looks at how smoking bans across the country are affecting theater performances. Several Colorado theater companies are even in the midst of a lawsuit over their performers' right to free speech which, they contend, includes smoking.
So, we thought we'd ask a few questions about how, come July 1, the local smoking ban might affect the arts here.
It’s unclear just how Anchorage’s upcoming smoking ban will affect local theater, but the ordinance doesn’t give arts venues serving liquor an outright exemption.
The ban, which goes into effect July 1, is aimed at bars. Few performing arts spaces in Anchorage have liquor licenses. The venues that do serve wine, beer or liquor haven’t been told how the new ordinance will affect actors smoking on stage.
Anchorage Assembly member Dick Traini, who co-authored the smoking ban ordinance, isn’t sure if the ban would extend to some performance art.
“I haven’t even thought about it, frankly,” Traini said. “It’s not on my list of things to worry about right now.”
Traini said it will be better to decide the ban’s reach once it’s enacted.
If the Assembly interprets the ban to include stage performers in “wet” theaters, it could affect such venues as the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, Mad Myrna’s and Cyrano’s Off Center Playhouse.
Nancy Harbour, president of the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts Inc., said the issue hasn’t been discussed at an administrative level, but she would consider such an enforcement of the smoking ban an infringement on the artists’ right to free speech.
“We would try to convince whoemever that it’s not a good idea,” Harbour said. “We would see that as censorship of a production, and we fight all ways of being censored in performance.”
That said, Harbour remembers few productions that involved smoking on the Atwood Hall stage: about 10 in the last two decades, including three runs of Hal Holbrook’s “Mark Twain Tonight!”
In real life, Twain was inseparable from his stogies. He even wrote an essay called “Concerning Tobacco.” “The smoking may seem incidental, but it’s germane to the Mark Twain character,” Harbour said.
Smoking can also be key in defining fictional characters, such as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” according to R.J. Haywood, a frequent director and actor at Mad Myrna’s. “When we did 'Cabaret,’ Sally smoked through the whole performance,” Haywood said. “That’s the character, and I think it would mute it quite a bit if she weren’t smoking.”
Haywood said Myna’s artists didn’t realize the ban could affect the shows. “In the future, we might have to change locations to maintain realism,” he said.
Traini said it would be healthier for actors to switch to fake cigarettes and cigars.
A referendum to repeal the ban will be on the April 3 city election ballot.
What do you think? Should actors and actresses be allowed to smoke on stage if it's part of their character? Let us know your opinion in the comments section below.