All it takes is one statement. Distinguished Professor of Playwright Charles Smith not only creates masterpieces for the stage, but often bases his works expanding on elaborate statements and messages heard every day.
At the young age of 21, Smith became enthralled after watching his first stage play and knew he wanted to be able to tell a story in a way that involved more of a community aspect.
“When writing a play it’s not just a story, but a story the writer gets to share with an audience,” he says. “It brings about a sense of community when working with actors, directors, stage managers, the audience and so many more people who help put this story on stage. It is like no other form of storytelling.”
Playwriting has made Smith more aware of the power of narratives and how words have no meaning until they’re invested, he says. Playwrights shape images and give meaning to different concepts people encounter every day.
“I tell a story because a statement is not enough,” he says. “The more elaborate the statement is, the more complex the play is going to be. A story is only as long as what you need to say.”
Smith develops many of his plays over issues society often finds uncomfortable, but the purpose is in order to learn - for the audience and himself. His ideas for plays are sparked by what he is interested in exploring. Rather than “writing what you know,” Smith chooses to write about what he doesn’t know - if something puzzles him, he takes that idea, asks how it is justified and researches extensively. This method allows Smith to explore the completely unfamiliar and turn it into a compelling story for the stage.
Investing such research time to develop his ideas and statements only adds to his reward when the play is seen by audiences, Smith says. He finds it incredibly exciting to be sitting with the audience, watching and listening to their responses to the various moments he created on stage. However, the way he has imagined his script isn’t always the way it folds out, Smith explains. Once a cast is added, the actors take the roles and their interpretations of them and make them their own, bringing different flairs to the story.
“The two times I love are the first day of rehearsal, since it is full of possibility, and opening night, because it’s time to just let it go, there is nothing else I can do,” he says. “It is then in the hands of everyone else. It is all of our play.”
Smith's playwriting career spans many years, including a long-standing relationship with The Victory Gardens, the Tony Award-winning Chicago theater, starting as an intern and rising to become one of the founding members of the Playwrights Ensemble. Many of Smith’s plays are performed at The Victory Gardens.
This distinguished playwright has produced several Off-Broadway plays, including Knock Me a Kiss and Pudd’nhead Wilson, which included a 22-city national tour before heading to New York. His work has also been produced for the HBO New Writers Project, the International Children’s Theater Festival in Seattle, and The National Black Theatre Festival.
Before his tenure with Ohio University, Smith taught playwriting at Northwestern University, taught for the Prague Summer Program in Creative Writing in the Czech Republic, and for the Center of Dramatic Arts in Groznjan, Croatia.
Just some of the awards Smith has won include the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, Illinois Arts Council Governors Award, The Cornerstone National Playwriting Award, The Theodore Ward National Playwriting Award, the NBC New Voices Award and two Black Theater Alliance Awards for New Work.
More information on Smith’s plays and a complete list of his works can be found here: http://www.csplays.com/