Chuck Smith, Residence Director, at The Goodman Theater celebrates his 21st anniversary. His play, Pullman Porter Blues, opens the 2013 theater season and in a surprise move, he was recently named to the board of trustees at The Goodman Theater.
On a Saturday afternoon we lunched to chat about his illustrious career.
HERMENE: What was it like 21 years ago at The Goodman Theater when you first started?
CHUCK: It was difficult for the African American actor to find his way to the Goodman
There was an occasion when we were consideraing an August Wilson play – SEVEN GUITARS- and the actors had to go to New York to audition for the original play.
CHUCK:Because the director, Lloyd Richard, lived in New York. He was the first Black director on Broadway and is credited with discovering the late August Wilson. It bothered me Chicago money in a Chicago theater was about to produce a play and the auditions were to be held in New York. I yelled and screamed and insisted on change with the Goodman.
HERMENE: How did you get to the Goodman?
CHUCK: I send my result aloang with a proposal to tell them what they needed. They had empty seats and I said I can fill them. I had worked with Victory Gardens and founded the Chicago Theater company, a professional union house on 67th and Eberhart. My play, “The Meeting” was a major hit.
HERMENE: Where are you now?
CHUCK: I am in a good place The board surprised me with a board appointment. My play opens the season and we are having a gala celebration recognizing my 21 years. I know I am in a good place.
HERMENE: What is the difference between Chicago Theater and New York Theater?
CHUCK: Chicago Theater the objective is to do good work. New York is commercial theater. They are interestesd in making money and star power. In Chicago it is about the quality of the work, we are not star driven. The major theaters in Chicago are non for profit. Chicago has more tony regional awards than in other city in the country.
HERMENE: How do you choose a play to produce?
CHUCK: It’s about a good story If I can engage the story, I can mount it on stage. I must have a page turner.
I like stories that communicate the value the African American has contributed to this country. PULLMAN PORTER BLUES is about African American males who love and have family values. Black men receive little credit for family values.
HERMENE: What makes a hit play?
CHUCK: There is no formula. The major ingredient is a good story with music, especially for African American stories.
HERMENE: What is your favorite play?
CHUCK: My first success was August Wilson’s, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Wilson came in and worked with me on the production. He said it was the best production. That was in 1997 and it set box off records It was seen by Mayor Daley and his wife Maggie, Vice President Gore and his wife Tipper and Michael Jordan. It solidfy me with the Goodman. The play was taken to New York.
HERMENE: What is your next show?
CHUCK; For Black History Month we are going to present, “Quark.” It is about cancer survivors.
HERMENE: What elese is Chuck Smith doing?
CHUCK: I want to be the artists in residence for Fisk University. I want to establish programs that will benefit Black theater companies. I will develop a think tank on how to do better and present jobs and opportunities. Having the ability to entertain is a gift.