Theatre Information


By • Jan 4th, 2012 • Category: An Actor's Advice

Lung cancer is one of the biggest killers of people in the United States. It has been consistently proven that an overwhelming number of cases of the disease can be linked to smoking tobacco.

I have never understood why anybody under 50 years old opts to smoke. All of the information is there, and has been for decades. I have friends who do smoke, and it is the least pleasant thing about each of them. The younger they are, the bigger a jackass they appear to be when they opt to begin the habit in the first place.

For reasons surpassing understanding, plays continue to be produced which seem to require a character to smoke a cigarette. And directors will ask if a person object to this during auditions. Either to smoking themselves or being exposed to second hand smoke while on stage. Everything from the integrity of the script, (which calls for a character to smoke) or for proper setting of the mood of the piece have been given as reasons to require the act. (Provided it doesn’t go against fire codes in a given venue.)

If you are a smoker, quit. It’s as simple as that. And if you are not a smoker, in the name of everything in your life that has ever been good do not under any circumstances agree to start smoking just to get a part, or to give a character or scene more gravitas. Because nicotine is addicting as well as deadly, and you should never rely on the idea of quitting after the show is over. It takes very little actually smoking to become hooked on doing so, and the repetitive nature of rehearsals and performances is the perfect breeding ground for new smokers. If a director asks if you smoke, tell them no. And tell them you do in fact mind if other actors will be smoking on stage with you. If you lose the chance to be in the show, so be it.

We live in a supposedly enlightened time. As I said, the whole civilized, intelligent world knows what smoking can do to a person and how quickly it can do it. If a scene calls for cigarette or cigar use, don’t light it. A modern audience should understand. If your director insists that the scene requires actual smoke to waif up into the lights in order to set the scene, they are not a talented director.

And truth be told, in my 12 years as an actor, I have encountered almost no scenes that would lose anything without the actual smoke.

If you absolutely have to be in a production wherein the cigar or cigarette must be lit, (which I still advise against strongly) keep these few important things in mind:

  • Light up as late in the scene, and extinguish the butt as early in the scene, as possible. Talk the director into allowing this.
  • Drag the smoke into your mouth and puff it out as quickly as the character will allow. Never actually draw it into your lungs, regardless of who you are playing.
  • Commit as much business as possible that doesn’t require taking a drag. Move it around in your hand a lot. Flick out the ashes more than you otherwise might. Pull a George Burns and “examine” the cigar or cigarette while talking. If you are doing your job as an actor most people shouldn’t notice just how infrequent the drags are.
  • When not dragging or puffing, keep the smoke as far away from you as the scene will allow.
  • Don’t blow the smoke into anyone’s face, unless the script calls for it directly, and cannot be altered at all.
  • If you are not the smoker in the scene, face away from the smoke as much as possible. Request blocking from your director that will allow this.
  • Finally, and most importantly is something I cannot emphasize to non-smoking actors enough: So called “herbal” cigarettes are not, I repeat NOT, any safer for your lungs than tobacco cigarettes are. They may lack the addicting qualities of nicotine, but the inhalation of smoke into the lungs, regardless of what is being burned, is hazardous to your health. Yet most actors and theatre companies seem unaware of this fact, and offer up herbal cigarettes as a “safe” alternative to smoking “real” cigarettes for scenes. Do not make this mistake and begin to smoke such alternatives on a regular basis during the production.

I have heard of newer devices which look like cigarettes but actually produce water vapor. I have not seen them in use, and cannot speak to how good they would look on stage. Plus they are quite expensive. Yet if possible, obtain one of these things if your director insists on there being some kind of “smoke.” See if the theatre will reimburse you for the purchase. If not, continue to lobby for no smoke at all. After all, you are a good enough actor to convince an audience that a cold cigarette is actually lit, aren’t you? I am sure you are.

And remember even if an audience, a playwright, or a director doesn’t appreciate this stance, your lungs certainly will. And it is they you take with you after a show is over. Remember that.

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

One Response »

  1. Hey, some of us audience members hate it, too!