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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, March 5

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Theatre Mon Jul 07 2008

Where There's Smoke...

Chris Jones, the Tribune's theater critic and blogger, was in a tizzy today about the news that Jersey Boys has removed all depictions of smoking from their show. There's currently no artistic exception to the smoking ban (though one was considered) and apparently an audience member complained about the characters lighting up. Cue the police, entering stage left, to warn the production about being in violation of the law.

Jones huffs and puffs about this injustice more than a two-pack-a-day addict. He throws around words like "authenticity" and "truth" and claims that enforcement of this law not only injures Chicago's reputation as a world-class cultural center but also violates artists' constitutional right to freedom of expression. Methinks this drama critic is being overly dramatic.

Jones fails to consider that the smoking ban exists partly to prevent people from having to make the difficult choice between being exposed to the harmful effects of smoking or being unemployed. This is true for waitresses who doesn't want to inhale second-hand smoke as well as actors who have concerns about lighting up three times a show for eight shows a week. Workplace safety may seem like a lame reason to harsh on someone's good time, be they real or fictional, but I'm not sure why actors don't deserve the same protections that we offer other professionals. According to Jones, it's because they don't want them: he asserts that "actors and other theater people take these acceptable risks as routine parts of their job because they know they serve a higher cause."

But couldn't this higher cause be served equally well by simulating smoking? Jones thinks not. He claims that it's "completely wrong for the characters" and reminds us that we allow actors to brandish weapons, assault police officers, incite riots, and do all other manner of illegal things on stage. He thinks smoking should be no exception! Except that all the acts he lists are simulated. Fake weapons, fake police officers, and fake riots all seem to indicate that we can employ fake cigarettes and still maintain artistic integrity.

I'm sure that Jones is familiar with the term "suspension of disbelief." Actors don't need to actually have sex, drive a car, or inject drugs onstage for the plot to be advanced or for audiences to appreciate the themes and deeper meaning of the work. There's certainly nothing wrong with prizing verisimilitude in art but to run around claiming that the First Amendment is falling because actors aren't allowed to smoke a real cigarette seems silly. Jones wants his readers to believe that the City Council is asking theaters and playwrights to pretend that smoking doesn't exist, which isn't the case. The law just asks that they pretend to smoke and when there are legal and safe alternatives that enable doing so it's unclear to me how anyone's rights are violated. But judging by the numerous comments on Jones' post there are few others who feel that way.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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