All of Minnesota's a stage (if you're a smoker)
Saturday 08 March 2008
It's a long way from Broadway but Minnesota has become a hotbed of amateur theatre this winter, with new and assuredly amateurish productions popping up in bars and taverns up and down the state.
Expect more pantomime than Shakespeare. Puff the Magic – Drag On might be an audience favourite.
Attracting audiences is not actually the point. It is entirely for the benefit of the actors, really just punters, whose sole interest in treading the boards is the opportunity to hold one tiny prop in between their fingers: a cigarette.
It is a wheeze (cough and splutter) born of a loophole that bar owners found after a statewide ban on smoking in public places started in Minnesota six months ago.
The Freedom to Breathe Act had an exemption that allowed actors to smoke in theatrical productions, so long as patrons were warned in advance.
While there is a serious side to their shenanigans – many bar owners have seen revenue slide sharply since the ban came into effect – a good deal of fun has been had along the way. To make things at least half convincing, some taverns give names to their sham productions, print up playbills and even have both punters and bartenders dress up in elaborate costumes.
Among the first establishments to get in on the act – or rather acting – was the Barnacles Resort at Lake Mille Lacs, a favourite winter spot for ice fishermen and snowmobile riders. On the first night it challenged the ban, it featured a "travelling tobacco troupe". Mark Benjamin, a lawyer who first encouraged bar owners to exploit the loophole, showed up in tights, a feathered hat and leather boots.
The Cover Inn near Vadnais Heights, meanwhile, advertised a production it called As the Clover Turns. As in most other locations, all that is involved for theso-called actors is to prop up the bar and draw heavily on cigarettes just like they used to before the pesky ban was thrust upon them.
While all this might delight smokers in the state, others are not impressed. Among those lobbying for a change is the American Cancer Society.
This week, the Minnesota Health Department decided enough was enough and issued a warning to bar owners to drop the curtain on the phoney dramatics. "These bars are attempting to circumvent the Freedom to Breathe Act," the commissioner of health, Dr Sanne Magnan said on Wednesday. "The law was enacted to protect Minnesotans from serious health effects of second-hand smoke."
The city fathers of Vadnais Heights are also attempting to dim the lights at the Clover Inn. The town council passed a new regulation that will make smoking in bars illegal, whatever the circumstances. The Bard himself could show up and it would make no difference.
"The decision's been made. There's not going to be any smoking. The theatre stunt to go around the law was sly against the spirit of the law. There wasn't much discussion. The law's the law," said Joe Murphy, a council member.
So, the burst of theatrical invention across Minnesota – other favourite productions have included Before the Ban! and The Tobacco Monologues – may be about to go up in smoke.
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 4 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
- 5 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
General Election 2015: David Cameron catching up in polls – but he badly needs a clear lead
South Africa xenophobic attacks: Shops looted and violence on streets of Johannesburg as foreigners are forced to hide in police stations
Earthworms rain down from skies over Norway, puzzling scientists
18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
General Election 2015: Polish prince challenges Nigel Farage to a duel over immigration question
£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...
£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...