We knew Minnesota's Twin Cities were pretty serious about their theater (bragging more live theater per capita than anywhere outside New York). Even so, our eyebrows are sufficiently raised at hearing that bars across the metro area there were staging "theater nights" to bypass the statewide smoking ban.
The Star Tribune explains:
Dozens of bars are expected to stage "theater nights'' this weekend in which patrons are dubbed "actors". The law, which went into effect in October, permits performers to smoke during a theatrical production. "Two weeks ago, we had one bar doing this,'' said Mark Benjamin, a criminal defense attorney who launched the theater-night idea. He estimates 50 to 100 bars could be on tap for theater nights this weekend based on phone calls, e-mails and requests for the how-to-stage-a-theater-night packet that he's devised.
Lisa Anderson, owner of Mike's Uptown bar, told the Star that her "theater night" last Saturday drew four times the usual crowd. She plans to continue to host similar themed nights, at least until state health department officials pull the plug on the loophole.
Benjamin explained the scheme further in a Feb. 8th op-ed in the Star Tribune (not-so-coincidentally the same day as the inaugural theater night):
When the smoking ban was debated, some theater-going, latte-drinking, Volvo-driving legislators got their undies all in a bundle that a few performers might not be allowed to smoke cigarettes on stage. Really. They worried that performers might have to suck on straws or pencils or -- you know -- "act" like they were smoking. Heavens! Whatever would become of The Theatre?
Not to worry. Our legislators quietly slipped in an exception for "theatrical productions" so that actors and actresses could puff away onstage and the delicate flower of artistic expression could more fully flourish in the North Star State.
But in their haste they forgot to define where "theatrical productions" could be performed. And they forgot the words of the Bard, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." If we have Shakespeare in the park, can't we have Shakespeare in the bar?
See, the act prohibits smoking in a bar but not in a "theatrical production." In a bar you get a $300 ticket but in a "theatrical production" you get applause and accolades. So if you're a bar owner and don a beret, declare your bar a stage, hand out scripts and direct your patrons — ahem — performers to fire up some heaters, then you've got a bona fide "theatrical production" going on. The acting might not be so good, but the smoking will be sheer bliss — and legal to boot. There really is no business like show business.
All the world's a stage, indeed.
Photo: Carrie Musgrave