It wasn’t until I started working in historical theater that I truly started to understand just how important cigarettes and smoking had been culturally. While getting ready to direct my very first play, which was set just after WWII, I realized there are very few periods when smoking wasn’t something everyone did, and that the idea of going without tobacco is actually a really recent concept.
While the idea of not smoking is a new concept, I had a heck of a time convincing the actors they were going to need to smoke in order to make their role seem authentic they were going to smoke. Not only did most of them refuse to smoke, but several refused to even consider getting on the stage if there was even the slightest chance of breathing in secondhand smoke.
I was in a bind. I understood the actors’ stance. I wasn’t willing to do something that would increase the chances of me developing deadly cancers in the future. On the other hand, this was my debut, I needed it to be perfect and that meant the characters needed to smoke.
It took some time and a lot of internet research, but I finally found the perfect solution. Salvation came in the form of electronic cigarettes. These little devices look so much like real cigarettes that it would be impossible for the audience to guess that it was anything but the real deal. Instead of smoke, these little batter powered devices produce a water based vapor.
I kept digging and slowly learned, with the help of some studies that have been recently concluded, that thus far, there haven’t been any serious health problems connected with using electronic cigarettes. Satisfied, I’d found a workable solution, I went online and ordered a couple start kits.
I’m pleased to report that my actors agreed to use the electronic cigarettes. The play went off without a hitch and everyone, crew and audience seemed very happy with the final results.
I’ll admit it. At first I was a little nervous about using the electronic cigarettes. I knew they looked great, and I loved the fact that my actors would be exhaling what looked like smoke between lines, but I was worried that the devices would malfunction. I don’t always have the best luck with electronic gadgets. The good news is that the electronic cigs worked like a charm. As long as everyone remembered to plug them into the battery charger prior to the performance, they worked throughout the entire show.
The play worked as a springboard for my career and now I have several offers to direct other, historical plays. I can’t help wondering if these offers would have rolled my way had I not taken so much time looking for ways to use cigarettes to give my play a culturally accurate feeling.