Maplewood, Minn. All the world's a stage at some of Minnesota's bars.
A new state ban on smoking in restaurants and other nightspots contains an exception for performers in theatrical productions. So some bars are getting around the ban by printing up playbills, encouraging customers to come in costume, and pronouncing them "actors."
The customers are playing right along, merrily puffing away - and sometimes speaking in funny accents and doing a little improvisation, too.
The state Health Department is threatening to bring the curtain down on these sham productions. But for now, it's on with the show.
At The Rock, a hard-rock and heavy-metal bar in suburban St. Paul, the "actors" during "theater night" do little more than sit around, drink, smoke and listen to the earsplitting music.
"They're playing themselves before Oct. 1. You know, before there was a smoking ban," owner Brian Bauman explained. Shaping the words in the air with his hands, like a producer envisioning the marquee, he said: "We call the production 'Before the Ban!' "
The smoking ban, passed by the Legislature last year, allows actors to light up in character during theatrical performances as long as patrons are notified in advance.
About 30 bars in Minnesota have been exploiting the loophole by staging the faux theater productions and pronouncing cigarettes props, according to an anti-smoking group.
"It's too bad they didn't put as much effort into protecting their employees from smoking," grumbled Jeanne Weigum, executive director of the Association for Nonsmokers.
The Health Department this week vowed to begin cracking down on theater nights with fines of as much as $10,000.