Wednesday, October 28, 2009

one cigarette

Tonight I was backstage signing posters for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids when my friend Joey told me I had to read something. I made some dumb joke in response and he reiterated that I really had to read it.

Okay, I will, I said nonchalantly, most of my energy going to making that large J followed by a lot of squiggles and the even larger L followed by yet more squiggles. Yes, my signature needs work. But it's not work I like to do, not when there are 100+ posters a pop yet again staring me in the face.

But Joey was not taking no for an answer, Now. You need to read it now.

Well I'm busy doing something for people with AIDS, what are you doing? After informing me that he had already signed those posters and done his part, I decided to humor him and read what had gotten his attention.

I present: fan mail.

Well not exactly fan mail, I guess.

Okay, not even close.

Here goes...

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a 29 year old female who loves attending your Broadway through Canada productions. I was appalled to smell cigarette smoke during "A Chorus Line" during the Saturday, October 17 show in the afternoon. There were comments coming from one of the actresses during the show saying she needed a smoke break, but then she didn't leave the stage so I figured that was it, and it was just part of her character. But then a while later she lit up on the stage.

In today's world of anti-smoking campaigns and the fight against cancer, I was surprised that she didn't just "act-out" the smoking, but that she actually "smoked" a real cigarette. The part that disturbed me the most was that we were sitting in the 4th row of the mezzanine and we could actually smell the cigarette smoke a few minutes later.

I realize that it's one cigarette and no, one cigarette isn't going to kill me, but the point is that we should be allowed to attend these performances in a smoke-free environment, right?

Then they had the nerve after the show to ask us to donate money to some of their charities--one of them being for cancer.

When my friends and colleagues asked me how I liked "A Chorus Line" I didn't tell them about the actors, dancing, or singing. I told them about how I was at the NAC and I could not believe that I had smelled cigarette smoke during the show.

So there it is. Yowza. I can maybe see where she is coming from, and I don't know--perhaps somebody she loved passed away from lung cancer, making any smell of smoke instantly give her a visceral reaction that encompasses all.

Or maybe she just doesn't get the idea of story.

Of characters that make that story come to life.

Or of the fact that we are depicting a story that involves dancers in the seventies and let me tell you, a lot of them smoked. In fact, a lot of them did a lot more than smoke and the fact that one lone cigarette (which is herbal, by the way, and if anyone cares at all) made it into a scene is pretty tame in comparison to what could be there.

Not that I am saying that cigarettes are cool or good for you or that I am buying them for my nieces and nephews for Christmas. No, I actually hate the smell too. But this cigarette is a part of Sheila's story. She's a stressed out, jaded, aging dancer who's talking about the business and how precarious it is. She lights up. Because it's part of her character. It's what Sheila would do.

Therefore the actress who plays Sheila does it.

See, story--any good story--is not just about perfection or always making the right choices or how one day you baked a cake and then walked your dog, though those are two perfectly lovely things to do and if you ever want to bake a cake for me and then invite me to walk your dog, I am totally in. But story involves conflict. It's creating scenes that are memorable. Sheila lighting up during the alternative scene--actively portraying her need to de-stress in what is supposed to be the great conflict or climax of A Chorus Line--makes sense. And obviously, it's memorable since it's the freaking only thing this young lady even mentioned to anyone who asked her about the show: that cigarette.

Even the Bible is totally offensive in some places. Because it tells a story of humans and let's face it, we mess up. A lot. But, it's memorable. It's not tame-not at all--but it sticks, because the stories talk about everything, the good and the bad, making it authentic. It tells about the screwing up and the grace that comes afterward.

And well, the cigarette? It's a part of the story that we are telling every night.

And no, the point of the cigarette is not that we think everyone should smoke because shriveled lungs are so cool; the point of the cigarette is to show that Sheila, like all of the rest of us, is scared. Worried about the future. Wondering where the next job, the next paycheck will come from.

And honestly, simply talking about it is something, yes; but there's power in showing it.

And come on, ONE cigarette at the very end of the show made her forget about the hilarity that is SING?!?!

Okay, just joking.

But seriously, a lot of other good stuff goes on during that two hours; I have a hard time believing it was all trumped by that cigarette. It must have been the fact that it was herbal--those things pack a punch.


beingawesome said...

Well.. as probably the resident smoker on your blog here.. I will pipe *HA!* up and say that I absolutely detest the smell of it not to mention that I also hate second hand smoke.

NOW in saying that. People need to get over themselves... While I agree people who do not smoke should not be forced to be in a room with smokers.. one herbal cigarette.. in the cavern that show was in.. *a vast majority of those touring houses are caverns I'm guessing* I just don't get it. People need/crave to have something to fight against in their lifetimes. However, it seems often it's several DIFFERENT things so maybe they feel like they're changing something.

I think standing up for what you believe is ALWAYS the right thing to do... but honestly lady.. there are bigger battles to fight in this world at the moment than the smoke off of an herbal cigarette.

beingawesome said...

just to clarify.. lady in said story was the Canadian .. not you Jess.. although I'm preeeetty sure you're gonna hate my gross habit :)

Jessica Latshaw said...

Rob--I knew you weren't referring to me when you said "lady." and i agree: there are bigger battles to fight right now.

kathiek said...

That's so funny that she would only mention that cigarette! I cannot abide the smell of cigarettes, I loathe it...and I don't even remember Sheila lighting all. I DO remember I was treated to an amazing show with some seriously talented performers, especially the girl that played Kristine...darn, what was her's on the tip of my tongue...oh well! :-] (Jess, I hooted and hollered for you when I saw you in Philadelphia, you probably heard me, I was that loud. I don't go to sports events or watch them on TV, so the only other time I hoot and holler is in church. You were wonderful!)

Mandy and Jack said...

Okay. WOW. Seriously. I'm going to need to write a lot of letters.

A BIG one to the cast of "RENT," because I'm really against killing dogs, and Angel does that. And while I'm there, I might as well mention Mimi's drug addiction, because jeez, I can't believe they would represent that on stage. I think I'll start with "Hey Mimi! Just say no! Also, stop stripping."

One to the cast of "Music Man," because I don't think you should swindle people out of their money and leave town, and Prof. Hill does that.

One to the cast of "Wizard of Oz," because seriously, do you know how dangerous flying monkeys can be?

And stealing? So wrong. Les Miserables is going to hear about what exactly I think of Jean Valjean.

Man... I've got a list to make. I'm going to be pretty busy the next few weeks.

James Ricardo The Actor said...

Lol that letter was funny! First of all the cigg. is herbal, which she doesn't know!

Also all the cursing, talking about being hard, tits and ass, and she hated the smoke! Interesting!

I say: don't come to the theater, if you are not willing to be put in the time and place. And have a free willingness of disbelief. TRUTH is the answer to a great stage production!

OK I'm done!

Jessica Latshaw said...

Kathie--I appreciated you hollering on my account. So, so much. Thank you:)

Mandy--yes, I am so glad you see the point, exactly. And good thing for you, you are a great writer and should be able to knock out those many letters on your to-do list in no time at all. Watch out, Broadway, here she comes!!!

JR--I know, my friend; I know.

jason said...

I for one am glad that somebody finally had the courage to expose the truth behind "A Cigarette Line." Herbal or otherwise, I've been traumatized by that smoke since your puffed your way through LA.

Jessica Latshaw said...

lol, jase.

Darby said...

Jessic.... in this world there are those who understand the heart of an artist... and then there are those who just. don't. get. it. And listening to that particular kind of person pontificate is unspeakably more disturbing to me than any amount of anything anyone could light up anywhere.

Jessica Latshaw said...

well said, darby.