Sunday, October 26, 2008

I Don't Have a Light

Much to my chagrin, (and to the chagrin of many other actors, with good reason), some playwrights insist on making the smoking of a cigarette integral to plot of a piece, of at least of a specific scene.

I am not a smoker, and if Broadway called and offered me a role tonight, with my name on the marquee, if only I would agree to smoke for the role, I would turn it down. And I mean it.

This of course is not an anti-smoking public service announcement. (Though, as a point of personal privilege, I will say anyone who becomes a smoker has quite a bit less intelligence than most people.) What this site is about, is acting, and the question of the actor smoking on stage is not as uncommon as you might think, when you have been in as many shows as I have.

To begin with, I know of people who have gotten roles based almost solely on their willingness to smoke a cigarette. This to me is not only unfair, but sending quite the wrong message...that trickery and props are going to be more important in a show, than the story and the performances.

As much as we actors like to make it as real as possible, being on stage is a process of illusion and creation. Our lives are not really in danger. In most cases, the people kissing on stage are not actually in love, and not many people rub elbows with royalty. I therefore must conclude that a sudden need to be 100% true to life when it comes to tobacco products is not only lazy, and uncreative, but morally questionable to an extent.

Someone who has never smoked should NEVER be asked to do so in a show. To potential risk of addiction is not worth any part, and any director unaware of this is someone I would not trust to direct me to the men's room in the lobby, let alone on stage. The same goes for a director who would choose someone based on the fact they already had an addiction.

If no other advice I have ever give on this blog up until this point has ever been followed by actors, I hope this piece will be. Do not, under any circumstances, take a smoking role if you are required to smoke for real.

Know your script. Find out if any characters you may be cast as are smokers. If so, ask the director at the audition right away if you would be called upon to really smoke. If you would be permitted to simply appear to smoke, without actually lighting the cigar or cigarette, proceed. If the director is adamant that it be real, so no thanks to that particular role.

I would also caution against herbal cigarettes. There is a common misconception that these herbal smokes are safe. They merely lack nicotine and tobacco, and hence have no potential for addiction. But inhaling any kind of smoke is a health risk. Beware of directors that are willing to make this substitution.

I was in Anything Goes a few years ago, and my character usually had a cigarette in his mouth or his hand. I never lit it. Nobody complained, that I know of. Your "smoking roles" will survive, as mine did, simply by going through the motions of lighting a cigarette, and puffing, etc. All the goodies that go along with it.

"There will not be any smoke to be seen," many will argue. My counter, as it is for many things, is that if your audience is paying close attention to how much, if any smoke is rolling out of a prop cigarette, your production is in a lot of trouble.

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