Join my crusade! Smoke Free Theater in Dayton!

I just heard back from Marsha Hanna, Artistic Director and Smoker in charge, of the Human Race Theater Company- she sees no reason to eliminate the final lighting of a cigarette in “Moonlight and Magnolias.”

I say it’s totally unacceptable and glamorizes a filthy habit.

I’ve proposed not lighting the cigarette- after all, the actors aren’t drinking real booze, using real guns- or having rain on stage when an umbrella and the sound of rain works.

Still no.

The scene could just as easily be played by any actor worth his salt, by just kicking his feet up on the desk, with hands behind the head. But, Marsha says the real character was a chain smoker. Well then, why didn’t he smoke at any other time during the play- which was the story of being locked in a room for a week to rewrite the script for “Gone with the Wind”?

Still no.

So- tonight between 7:15 and 8pm- I plan to be on the street in front of the Loft- with a sandwich board- and passing out ballots to patrons asking if they think a lit cigarette really is absolutely needed to end a side-splitting play.

If you’d like to join me in my crusade- I’d appreciate the company. I’ve sent an e-mail to the Board members I know- and am hoping the Board takes a stand for a smoke free theater production of “Moonlight and Magnolias” tonight.

Please feel free to add your comments below.

Or send Marsha an e-mail: [email protected]

Here is a link to a printable “ballot” like the jpg image above: Printable PDF of the Ballot against smoking on stage


29 Sept 2006


DAYTON: They call themselves “The Human Race Theatre Company” and tonight they open their production of “Moonlight and Magnolias” at 8pm. Standing outside, will be a hastily organized group of protesters asking Artistic Director Marsha Hanna to kick her habit of having actors light up on stage- as the main character in this play does in the very last seconds of the play. The protest will run from 7:15 till 8pm in front of The Loft Theater, 126 N. Main Street Dayton.
Esrati attended a preview on Wednesday and thought the play was amazing, fantastically acted and performed and side-splitting funny, all up to the scene where the character lights a cigarette. “There was no reason to introduce smoking into the story- we had just witnessed a “week in the life” of this character- where he never once lit up, or mentioned cigarettes even though he was locked in a room with two other lunatics trying to re-write the script to “Gone with the Wind” says Esrati who is a strong proponent of making Ohio a smoke-free state. “The actor’s action glamorizes smoking for no good reason, and could easily be taken out of the play without changing the nature of the play- simply putting his feet on the desk and hands behind his head- with a sigh, would accomplish the exact same thing.”
Artistic Director Hanna, a smoker, disagrees, saying that the character in real life was a chain smoker. This isn’t the first time these two have had discussions about the need to light a cigarette on stage, Esrati has made the suggestion to explain to the audience in the introduction that they can use their imagination to see smoke, in the same way that they have to imagine it’s real booze in the bottles and stage guns aren’t real.
The peaceful protestors will hand out “Ballot” flyers to patrons asking them to weigh in on the necessity of lighting cigarettes on stage- and to consider asking health sponsors like Premier Health Partners, Humana, First Dayton Orthopedists, Inc and Health Care Interventions, to withhold sponsorship if the Human Race can’t quit smoking on stage.

For more information – contact David Esrati, 937.361.1074 or [email protected]
He wrote about this on his blog:
You can reach the Human Race Theatre Company at 937.461.3823

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David EsratiRichmond Director/ActorMarsha HannaPamLoft Patron Recent comment authors
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I’m going to pass this on to the Smoke-Free Kettering.
Maybe we can get a real turn-out. 8-)


Much like your right to protest, I think that the director of a show has the right to artistic freedom. As long as the director’s wish doesn’t contradict the playwright’s intent, it’s perfectly acceptable. In this script, the playwright actually calls for the character to light a pipe. Ms. Hanna did spare you that unpleasantness. Ten seconds of a lit cigarette doesn’t seem to be too much of a burden to bear. You will actually breathe more smoke from the RTA busses you’ll be protesting next to in front of the theatre, than the smoke you would inhale inside.

David Esrati
David Esrati

Good to know Rick- who e-mailed from the victoria theater server, thinks that “artistic freedom” should include glamorizing smoking to minors.
What will Premier Health Partners and other insurance company sponsors say about glamorizing smoking?
Join us in our protest!


I wonder if the managers and club owners who are doing time for the Great White concert fire would say expressing their “artistic freedom” was worth it.

Ok. So it’s not pyrotechnics. But accidents do happen. If there are laws against yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater, you’d think there would be laws against striking a match in one.

Even if the second-hand smoke isn’t a problem, and even if glamorizing smoking can be defended as “artistic freedom”, it’s still a bad idea.

David Esrati
David Esrati

Well- Pam helped me out- we “picketed” for 45 minutes. The Dayton cop warned us nicely that we couldn’t be on the concrete- only the brick part of the sidewalk – about 10 feet from the building.
The Human Race had a red carpet- a limo- and a woman interviewing people like Joan Rivers at the Oscars- and us. What’s a red carpet without protesters? Some people thought we worked for the Human Race.
Some people refused our flyer- but not many. A few, probably including Rick (see above) thought this was a “stupid” issue. A guy who works at Sir Speedy, who smokes, and was waiting for the bus agreed with us entirely and said that Dean Martin almost never appeared without a lit cigarette.
Overall, the feedback was really positive. Marsha Hanna, Kevin Moore and Leigh Allen all acknowledged us- and Marsha even asked if we would be back tomorrow night. Secretly they are loving this. The question is- what will it take them to stop?
I could use volunteers to don the sandwich sign boards and help out on other nights- and it wouldn’t hurt for others to join us.
In the mean time- tell your friends, put a comment here, send Marsha an e-mail, and on Monday we will start identifying sponsors and contacting them to support the cause.
I’m posting a copy of the flyer as a PDF for anyone who wants to download it- print and cut (it’s 4 up) and you can also send letters to the editor of the Dayton Daily News, or write the Human Race.
Please help us make real smoke history on stage- and hopefully soon- off stage.

David Sparks

are there not MUCH larger fish to fry in the scope of our universe?

Yes, much, much larger things. I have no interest in saving humanity from its ultimately inescapable finality – death.

David Esrati
David Esrati

As to bigger fish Mr. Sparks- some things start small, like refusing to go to the back of the bus.
Ohio has the SmokeFree Ohio initiative on the ballot this fall- hopefully- this can help make some more people think about smoking in public.
Sometimes, small wins are important- and to those of you who can’t see why small wins are- you will never achieve the big wins either.
Everything starts somewhere.
It most certainly doesn’t start by sitting on your butt and doing nothing when you see something wrong.

David Sparks

I think you would be doing humanity a much better service by leading protests against internal combustion engines.

I cannot escape from them, the government PROMOTES their use right by providing thoroughfares for them right my house everyday and I have no choice whatever in breathing their toxic output.

Why we glorify the internal combustion engine while they perform their own brand of industrial jihad on our lungs and ozone is beyond me.


Note to David Sparks:

If you will come out and help us protest smoking, I will gladly help you stage an anti-internal combustion engine rally at some point in the future. That will take care of our two big air pollution problems.

After that, we can tackle methane emissions from dairy cows.


I really enjoyed the production of Moonlight and Magnolias! If nothing else, I am glad that David’s take on the cigarette lighting will give this fantastic production some press. Personally, the cigarette lighting didn’t bother me… I hope more people visit the Loft Theater and see this production. It is well done and totally hysterical!

David Esrati
David Esrati

A little research on “Fake cigarettes” turns out they are no safer from a health standpoint than regular cigarettes:
In other countries- the debate of whether a smoking ban applies on stage has been had: here is the question of someone playing Winston Churchill in Scotland- and the cigar remained
Obviously, this has come up before, in places other than Dayton.
It’s not unheard of keeping the cigarette unlit and letting imagination take over.
The thing that bothers me the most is the response: why waste your time on this small protest? For the same reason that Rosa Parks didn’t choose to move to the back of the bus, it’s often the small demonstrations that start the chain of change.
Over 70% of Americans don’t smoke. Why should the minority group of stupid smokers ruin going to every bar, restaurant, bowling alley, bingo hall for the majority of us?
I spoke with Dayton Daily News theater Critic Terry Morris today. He agrees that this single smoking scene adds zero value to the story line. Why must Marsha Hanna, smoker, and Artistic Director continue to include this scene- and glamorize a disgusting and filthy habit?

David Esrati
David Esrati

It’s interesting to call corporate sponsors of the Human Race Theater company and ask them to take a stand on gratuitous smoking on stage.
Karen Levin of the Levin Family and the Sam Levin Foundation- a major sponsor of the Human Race immediately agreed with my position- and is asking Ms. Hanna to reconsider her position on lighting a cigarette.
Julie Liss Katz, point person for Premier Health Partners, wasn’t receptive at all, and refuses to take a position. No discussion. In fact she threatened a call from the Premier Health Partner lawyers if I did mention that a “Health” organization is backing a play with gratuitous smoking.
So- here it is: Fact: Premier Health Partners, refuses to take a position on gratuitous smoking in a play.
Ms. Liss-Katz’s defense goes to the historical fact that David Selznik was a chain smoker- and that the cigarette on stage isn’t “real.”
Have to love the cop-out.
See the link above that says there is no such thing as a safe smoke.
Karen Levin is my hero.
Premier Health Partners needs to learn to walk the talk- health begins with prevention- and the lighting of a cigarette (real or fake) on stage is a cue to people that it is an acceptable thing to do- which it is not.

David Esrati
David Esrati

We were mentioned in today’s Dayton Daily News in the Seen & Overheard section- “Smoke sparks protest’- Marsha Hanna is still saying that the cigarette is important- and that it must be lit. However, Wikipedia doesn’t mention that Selznik was a smoker- (so it must not be that important) but that he did die at 63 from “several heart attacks”
It might be noted- the playwright, Ron Hutchinson, took some major liberties with the story- see this article, quoting Selznick’s son:
I am unable to track information about the playwright – and how to contact him right now- if anyone knows- it would be appreciated.

Irvin Moscowitz
Irvin Moscowitz

I saw the play on Saturday night, in fact my company, Burhill Leasing, was one of the sponsors. I thought the play was great. I do not think that the play “glamorized” smoking at all. When the characters ate only peanuts and bananas, that did not glamorize an unhealthy diet. When they had confrontations that led to physical fighting, that did not glamorize violence and when they had any other situations that were not politically correct, those again were not glamorized. It simply set a tone for the time the play was set and told a story. That’s all.

David Esrati
David Esrati

Mr. Moscowitz,
While I appreciate your comment- if you are hung up on the “glamorization of smoking” line- forget that-
and let’s instead look at crossing the “forth wall” of theater- when they actually reach out and touch the audience. If you suffer from respiratory problems (and I saw a few people hauling in oxygen tanks to the show)- the slightest exposure to burning anything- can cause distress.
And while the actors hit each other- they did not hit the audience, or really hit each other- yet, that cannot be said for the burning material on stage.
If you believe that lighting that “cigarette” was critical to the success of this marvelous play, I would think you were being as far-fetched as the idea that David O. Selznik would ignore calls from Louis B. Mayer. In fact- believing that it is historical fact that these three acted like the three stooges while crafting the screen play to one of the greatest box office successes of all time- is also quite far fetched.
I take it then, that you and Burhill Leasing are supporters of smoking in public places- and will be voting against the Smoke Free Ohio ballot issue on November 7th. – which is really too bad.
Ohio needs to start acting like a forward thinking State sooner than later.

Irvin Moscowitz
Irvin Moscowitz

Mr. Esrati,
I think you jumped to a conclusion that was a stretch. I certainly am not in favor of smoking in public places. We do not allow it in our office. I do not like to go into restaurants or other places where smoking is present. And I am a former smoker. Smoking was the stupidist thing I have ever done. There are a lot of things I, or you, may not like, but they are not always under our control. I would think that the 15 seconds of a cigarette burning at the back of a stage would have little effect on someone in the audience. I am not an expert, I may be wrong, but that’s what I would guess.

David Esrati
David Esrati

Mr. Moscowitz,
The real stretch here is that we have to have real “smoke” at the end of an amazing play. It adds nothing to a wonderful story.
The question is quite simply “why” the Human Race Theater Company is so adamant about including a lit “smoke” when it has nothing to do with the story.
Theater goers are generally intelligent, educated people- why must we be assaulted with this horrific, unhealthy habit in the theater?
And while this may seem a trivial thing to protest- sometimes the symbolism isn’t lost on the general public- like when a little woman refuses to take a seat at the back of the bus.
Smoking kills more Americans daily than Osama Bin Laden did on 9/11. This is a small fight for a big cause- I would hope that you join me in my plea to the Human Race to stop lighting cigarettes on stage.

Rick Phillips
Rick Phillips

David, I saw the play and loved it. Your concern over that scene is simply disproportionate. You need to focus on more important things or unimportant things. This to me is a non-issue.

David Esrati
David Esrati

I loved the play too.
The point is symbolic- that this play didn’t need that scene at all.
I’m going to have to explain protesting to people in Dayton.
The Boston Tea Party did absolutely nothing to the British Empire- but it motivated people to think differently.
Where Rosa Parks sat- wasn’t the end of the world- but it started people thinking.
This is a very important issue. If you saw the poll results today on issues 4 and 5- they are both passing- showing people have no clue what’s going on.
I’m sorry you don’t get it.
Some people do.

Gene Baugh
Gene Baugh

I “get it.” Manyu events in our life are like this particular one, we should ban smoking – people who show up for this show or any other are not anticipating “smoke” or “cigars” or “pipes.” Be the bigger person Rich, it need to GO!
I did see the play………and………ACES!!!!!!!!!!

David Esrati
David Esrati

We’ve been mentioned in

The play is over.
The smoking continued to the very end.
The Human Race seems to think that using a non-tobacco cigarette makes it all OK.
Wonder what will happen if I light one up in the theater?

Loft Patron
Loft Patron

At my performance, he did not light the cigarette. He put it into his mouth and then opened the lighter – froze and then fade to black.

Instead of wasting time hassling people in front of the theater out for a night of entertainment, use your advertising skills to alert people to the fraud of Issue 4.

If Issue 4 passes, it will render Issue 5’s non-smoking law worthless. Yes, Issue 3’s ads are deceptive, but will do far less harm than the smoking allowed by Issue 4.

David Esrati
David Esrati

Loft Patron:
Our v2 flyers had Vote no on Issue 4, Vote yes on issue 5 on the back.
The reason for our protest was to add to the dialog about public smoking- before the election. Theater patrons like yourself are typically opinion leaders, community leaders etc.


Saying this protest was about smoking on stage is like saying “Gone with the Wind” is a movie about the civil war: well yeah, sort of…but you’re missing the point.

This was not a boycott of the play, nor was it a personal vendetta. And we weren’t really hassling anyone, except maybe Frank, the beleaguered saxophonist who declared war on David the very first night for “cramping his style”.

Sorry about that, Frank.

For the record, we were telling people that they’d enjoy the show. We just wanted them to think about whether they’re willing to keep tolerating smoking indoors in public entertainment areas. We were also reminding them to vote no on four/yes on five.

At least that’s why I was out there every night. Did I miss something?

Tobacco has killed millions of people. David and I didn’t kill anyone with our protest. We just killed a couple of hours. And if it raises awareness at all—or helps motivate a few people to go to the polls next month and defeat issue 4— it was worth it.

Thanks, David for giving me a chance to do something to help make Ohio Smoke Free.

Marsha Hanna
Marsha Hanna

I will post this responses in the lobby during Big River for anyone who did not leave an email address or does not read your blog.

Thanks to all who left responses to the question of the cigarette in Moonlight and Magnolias. I feel it is important for the audience to feel comfortable in responding to ideas or issues brought up by our plays. Therefore, I chose not to respond during the run of the show and, instead, welcomed their responses.

I asked staff to watch for hands during the curtain speech, to report back any comments that were heard during performances and to collect any flyers that audience members wished to leave.

We received an average of 1.7 responses per night (Total 35) representing approximately 1.2% of our audience. The only verbal comments which I did not track were the frequent references to the protesters personally or the idea of protesting in general. These were almost universally negative. Although I was accused occasionally of planting the protestors. That I denied. I also received three independent e-mails. We saw no hands raised during the curtain speech.

Of the responses, a few were in support, most thought cigarettes should be eliminated unless pivotal or would consider withholding support until smoking is done away with.

Several voted for real booze and violence, but I suspect the actors pushed that position.

We will continue to review any smoking in a production with care and will alert patrons if a decision is made to use it prior to their entering the theatre.

Thank you, David and Pam, for speaking so favorably about the production to our patrons and treating them respectfully as they were entering the theatre.

David Esrati
David Esrati

Hopefully the answer to this problem will be solved on Tuesday Nov 7, 2006 when Ohioans vote no on issue 4 and yes on 5.
But- in a Denver Court- a judge got it right:

As to Marsha’s comment- not everyone filled out a form and dropped it off. Some kept their “ballots” to remember no on 4 yes on 5.

Here is a teaser from the Denver Post article:
“The theater companies were not asking for the right to smoke tobacco – they generally have smoked herbal or tea cigarettes for years – but Martinez said the plaintiffs offered no evidence that smoking non-tobacco substances poses any less of a threat to actors and audiences.

First Assistant Attorney General Tom Douglas often stole the thespians’ thunder with his own theatrics. At one point he chided Walton on cross-examination, “Do you believe that your actors should die for their art?” To which Walton responded dryly: “I think that’s the actor’s decision.”

Things grew equally dramatic when the plaintiffs chose to demonstrate for the judge the inadequacy of fake cigarette alternatives. But this strategy backfired when Theatre 13’s Judson Webb puffed into a simulated plastic cigarette, shooting a brief blue burst of talcum into the air. Webb said such devices lack believability, in part because the devices cannot depict a continual burn, and create a “massive distraction” for audiences.

Yet in his ruling, Martinez said Webb’s simulated act looked real enough for him.”

Richmond Director/Actor
Richmond Director/Actor

I think this might be the most lame call to action I have noted on the blogosphere. I randomly stumbled upon this blog through Ron Hutchinson research and find this. Come now. A lit cigarette (or pipe) at the end of a play, onstage. Are you really protesting art? On a blog? Shouldn’t you be a bit more advanced than that?

Is there anything else that might convey that same image, that same effect as lighting up at the end of accomplishing such a huge task?

David Esrati
David Esrati

Smoking is not art- it’s a dangerous, addictive habit, that’s been manipulated by people like me in advertising- to “look cool”- make you “look sophisticated” or like a cowboy.
Talk about lame- suggesting that lighting a cigarette stands for anything except stupidity is testament to advertisings ability to manipulate people.
I bet you believe in things like “Contract with America” and “Mission Accomplished” too?
Taking a drink, kicking back with his feet on the desk would have accomplished the same effect.
Obviously, you aren’t much of a director/actor if you can’t think of a whole bunch of ways to symbolize accomplishment.