Standing Up

Chuck Smith, Director

Q + A with Director Chuck Smith

By Neena Arndt

August Wilson had a special relationship with Chicago– including a one-of-a-kind collaboration with longtime Goodman Resident Director Chuck Smith. As he prepares to direct what he considers the most important work in the 10-play Century Cycle, Mr. Smith opens up about his time spent with the Pulitzer Prizewinning playwright.

QUESTION: Tell us about your collaboration with August while he was alive–and how you've worked to preserve his legacy.

ANSWER: I’d describe my relationship with Mr. Wilson as a ‘casual working relationship.’ We got to know one another personally in 1997, during the ten-day preview period for my Goodman production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. When we were not rehearsing, I drove him around to my favorite spots on Chicago’s south side. Since he passed away in 2005, I’ve directed seven productions of his plays nationwide, and curated two August Wilson festivals at the Goodman.

Q: You were tapped to dramaturg an August Wilson world-premiere production! What was the experience like, and are you applying that knowledge to your 2022 production?

A: As dramaturg on the world premiere of Gem of the Ocean in 2003, I provided research materials for the actors as well as script notes and suggestions to August. Naturally, some of the character development issues from those original rehearsals slip into our current rehearsals. This is the third production of this play I’ve directed, and each time I find myself approaching The City of Bones sequence in a different manner.

Q: August Wilson is counted among our country's most important playwrights; why is this play, in particular, important?

A: No other playwright has created a cycle of 10 stand-alone plays, two of which are Pulitzer Prize winners. In my opinion, Gem of the Ocean is the most important play of all 10, because it begins the cycle.  

Q: What do you hope will stay with the audience after experiencing this production?

A: I wish the audience leaves the theater asking themselves if they are doing their part in our American Democracy? If they consider themselves a good citizen? If they all, like some of the characters in the play, are Standing Up? 

Neena Arndt is the Resident Dramaturg for Goodman Theatre 

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