Friday, 5 March 2010

How far is too far?

Smoking Bans. I can understand them in certain circumstances. Nobody wants to be coughing down a mouthful of smoke with their dinner. Nobody wants to wake up after a night out and realise that that smell is coming from the clothes you wore the previous night. And nobody wants to pay good money to see a film, or a performance only to be stuck in that space breathing second-hand smoke from an audience dotted with smokers. But what happens when it comes to the arts? How far is too far when it comes to smoking on stage?

These questions have arisen in my mind due to being presented with the issue myself. 'Pornography' requires cigarettes to be smoked; it is written in the script on a number of occasions and to my fellow directors and I, fake cigarettes will just not cut it. We want the visceral effect of the smoke, the smell of it drifting downstage, the sight of smoke rising up to the rig and the sound of a performer inhaling a long drag. The atmosphere someone smoking creates is irreplaceable. Yet, to achieve this effect, we must first gain the permission of the Council, then the University and finally, if we do break down these authorities and are allowed to smoke on stage, a complaint from an audience member could see us facing a fine! Is it just me, or is this ludicrous?

It was not so long ago that people smoked on public transport and only recently was our country made completely smoke free, yet attitudes to smoking and smokers have changed to such a dramatic effect that it instigates outrage. What used to be a part of a culture, has now been eliminated for health and safety reasons. Health and Safety regulations may be in place to protect, yet most times they seem to restrict and limit artistic vision. What is surprising is that these rules are even more imposing at University. Particularly one such as ours which ironically pushes us towards the contemporary, the experimentational and the original. However we are stifled by these boundaries and the endless paperwork that has to be done just to smoke on stage. When did society get so uptight to the point where art is suffering? A line needs to be drawn at some point, the question is where? However, until it is realised that it is more practical to use discretion in these matters, art will continue to struggle against such rules and we will continue to go through the many motions to ensure that our artistic vision is not compromised.

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