Appleton Blog Logo by Jeff Lindsay
The Appleton Blog features one of America's
best communities: Appleton, Wisconsin.

Jeff Lindsay is an author of Conquering Innovation Fatigue. See for more info.
Also follow me on Twitter.


Appleton Resources

Other Suggested Links

Other Blogs from Fox Cities Folks

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Carmen at the PAC: Great Performance (But Real Cigarettes?)

The musical Carmen was at the Performing Arts Center last night. The Fox Valley Symphony was terrific and the performances of many individuals and the White Heron Chorale were outstanding. One more reminder of what an incredible place Appleton is for the arts. The talent of the many voices in the cast and the Symphony were truly impressive. In larger cities, you'd have to fight an hour of traffic, pay $30 parking, and pay much more for tickets. Here in Appleton, thanks to the PAC and the tremendous arts-supporting community, we have it brought to our doorstep where people can park for $1 in the parking ramp by the PAC or for free if they walk a couple of blocks. Kudos to the cast and crew for a terrific evening. But please tell me, what was up with using real cigarettes?

There is a famous smoking scene in Carmen where women workers departing from a cigarette factory tempt soldiers as they smoke. The scene can be done without lit cigarettes. There are stage cigarettes that can be used which rely on talcum powder or use other methods to produce simulated smoke. But even unlit cigarettes are fine for a stage performance when the audience isn't too close and understands that real smoking would be unwise. Nothing would have been lost by having people wave fake cigarettes in the air and pretend to smoke. We would have gotten it. This is the modern era: we understand that smoking is dangerous, that it causes cancer and numerous other diseases, that it is offensive and irritating to many non-smokers, that it can harm nearby non-smokers, and that it is one of the worse things a singer could choose to do. But to require singers to smoke? Hello?

Not only was the use of tobacco dangerous and harmful for those who were required to smoke on stage, it also had a negative effect on everyone on stage (orchestra included) and on many in the audience. One person near the front told me after the performance that he almost had to walk out because of his physical reaction to all that smoke. At the very back of the PAC, in the cheap seats, my wife had physical irritation from the smoke in that scene (was more of a problem for her - I was OK, actually, just a touch of irritation). In a city with a smoking ban, this was really a surprise. (Though for the record, I disagree with the smoking ban for private bars and restaurants because I feel that private property owners ought to be able decide what is and is not allowed on their property. But banning it in indoor public arenas like, say, the PAC makes a lot of sense.)

During the smoking scene, long before I realized that real cigarettes were in use, I whispered to my wife, "Sponsored by the Philip Morris Corporation." Hey, maybe I was right! Hundreds of young people were exposed to the example of beautiful professional singers getting a fix of real nicotine with cigarettes, in a positive and seductive way. Would be hard to come up with a better ad than that. Is it beyond reason that Philip Morris or some other tobacco corporation night provide a little help for productions like this? At least a few cases of complimentary low-tar cigarettes? If not, they're missing a huge opportunity. ;)

OK, I'm overreacting, but I hope in the future these issues will be considered from a variety of perspectives. Across the pond, the Scotts took a difference approach. For its performance of Carmen, the Scottish Opera went beyond merely using talcum-powder cigarettes to present a revised, healthier version of that scene. Might have been a wise decision.

So here's my suggested revision (update: uh, this part is not serious - sorry if that's not clear!). In addition to using fake cigarettes, let's also fix the ending. I hate the stupidity of the final scene. Carmen is clearly at risk as her drunken ex-lover is threatening her in a public place with lots of help around. She should have simply fled, screamed for help, got a restraining order, and survived. Instead, she virtually walks into the loser's knife to let him stab her. How stupid. If Carmen must die, let's make it a little more plausible. In the final scene, as she faces Don Jose, she begins coughing and then keels over from emphysema or lung cancer as Don Jose signs a mournful song about how tobacco killed his true love. Now that would be a tragedy more people could related to, for it's one that hundreds of thousands of people have experienced due to the horrific dangers of that addictive drug, tobacco - a drug that people should never be required to use, on-stage or off, and one that audiences should never be exposed to in any presumably smoke-free theater without warning.
Hi Jeff!
I was one of the singers in the staged chorus and I volunteered to smoke the cigarettes. I also volunteered my time to sing in this production and to have the chance to bring the BEAUTIFUL music to the Fox Cities. I have never smoked in my life and the innocent puffs on the cigarettes will not make me smoke (I didn't inhale). They are an integral part of the scene and I daresay someone would inhale more dangerous substances at a campfire. So many people worked so hard to bring opera back to the region--let's not let these accomplishments go up in a puff of smoke! And thank you for attending--!
Mary Schmidt
Who the hell does Jeff Lindsey think he is? Not only does he find himself in danger from a couple of cig's onstage...but also a critic of the highest credentials. He wants to rewrite Carmen!
I hated it when they killed off Ol' Yeller...but that's the way the story ends. Some things you'll just have to live with Jeff! Carmen will die, good guys wear white hats, and in my world, Santa does exist. Next time, order crackers and cheese to go with the whine!
Hey, the rewrite part was a joke. Sorry if that wasn't clear!

I wasn't hurt by the smoke - I was in the back. But a friend near the front almost had to walk out. Very negative experience for him. And some of the others on stage were unhappy about the exposure. Smokers often don't understand how troubling exposure to cigarette smoke can be for some people.
Why use real cigarettes? Because they are REAL and that's how life really is! Two sentences on a wonderful production and hundreds of ill-spent words lecturing on the dangers of smoking. I'm guessing your little tirade was sponsored by 'The American Lung Society' (you're the one who started the name-dropping). Get real!
Coming to you from the Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland - Bonnie
P.S.- have you been to church lately? Please, attend a traditional Catholic or Episcopal service, then let's talking about the hazards of 'smoking'!
Bonnie Lass, thanks for the comment. If I could remind you, though, this was an opera. A musical play, a simulation of life. The bulls were imaginary. So were the mountains, the streets, the walls, and all the props that weren't there in this minimalist production. The gun was fake. So was the knife. It was all simulation. So can you understand my puzzlement as to why they had to generate real carcinogens? I think fake cigarettes would have fit in well - and left nobody coughing. Just my 2 cents.
Come on. It's an OPERA! Besides, Carmen was based around a CIGARETTE factory! I thought the 'special effects' were tastefully added. Yes, you are overreacting. Unless you are one of those ex-smokers who is on the warpath.

The show was magnificent.Mary, you all did a fantastic job!

Jeff, maybe you should stay home and rent Disney movies. Sounds like you can't handle the rare cultural events which come to our town.
Chill my anonymous man or woman, this is just a blog and that was just my opinion. Yes, of course it's an OPERA. In my warped little world, an opera is a musical play - all pretend stuff - a drama. So when someone gets shot, they don't have to use real bullets. When someone gets stabbed, they don't need to use real knives. And if a character is out to get lung cancer, you don't have to use real tobacco smoke. Especially in a town that bans it in public places and in a day and age when people know that the stuff is actually toxic.

That's just my perspective. Hope you can see the point that not everything has to be real, especially not the dangerous or toxic stuff. It's just an opera, after all.
This is very interesting because I am a Theatre Director for a University and I always have this difficult problem when it comes to using cigarettes on stage.

The funny thing is when we are using fake cigarettes, people still have physical reactions to them: they caught, they sneez... just because they see a cigarette...

The truth is, real cigarettes are the real deal. How could you stage a Tennessee Williams play without real cigarettes? The cigarettes are part of the environment of these characters and no fake cigarette on the market looks real. It's all about the smoke.
Post a Comment

<< Home