Information, reviews, and miscellaneous shorts focusing on professional, nonprofit theater—from a Southeast Minnesota perspective.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Gunsmoke Monologues

I hadn’t thought about the recent surge in community theater productions at bars and taverns across the state as a concern for Minnesota Theater until a recent comment (from the limey) questioned the need for the theater exemption to the smoking ban. His (or her) solution to the problem of the loophole that the bars are exploiting is to eliminate the loophole for theaters as well. He asks why theaters need to use live cigarettes. Certainly cigarette props could be used in scenes that call for cigarettes.

While the limey raises some interesting questions, my thinking is moving in a different direction. First of all, I kind of admire the creativity and the gumption of bar owners finding and using the loophole, even though I am in favor of the law banning smoking in restaurants and bars. I guess at a very basic level I’m suspicious of laws that impinge on an individual’s activities. But I especially resist any government restrictions on the arts. It seems to me that a healthy Theater requires the freedom to express itself in whatever way is necessary. That includes using nudity, foul language, gunshots, violence, and cigarettes. Like any other prop, technique, or subject matter, cigarettes should be part of the tool bag for directors and producers.

I recently attended the St. Mary’s University production of When You Coming Back Red Ryder? The play is set in an early 70s roadside dinner. I believe the decision to use cigarettes in the play certainly helped create the overall scene. Yes, they could have eliminated the cigarettes, left them unlit, or used fake cigarette smoke, but I don’t think any of those would have been near as effective as the real cigarettes. Smoking, talking, and eating are the main activities of the patrons of a 70s roadside dinner. The play was enhanced by the use of real cigarettes, just as it was enhanced by real sausages frying on a greasy grill and a very realistic gunshot (though admittedly, not a real bullet).

I’m sure the state of Minnesota will do something to address the Gunsmoke Monologue issue. But in the meantime, this may be an opportunity to expand the interest in theater. When people willingly step on a stage, no matter how small, and call themselves actors, no matter how tongue-in-cheek, there’s a good chance that some of them may be living out some desire for a life on the stage. The Monologues aren’t theater, but they might be workshops.

As for the limey’s request that Minnesota Theater take a stand on the issue, here is the official stand:

Minnestota Theater does not review community theater productions, works in progress, or theater workshops. Minnesota Theatre will consider listing upcoming community theater productions, including Gunsmoke Monologues, if the pertinent information is submitted in a timely manner.

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