Director of Timber Lake’s ‘Working’ sits down for a chat

Chuck Smith

Editor’s note: The following is an interview with Chuck Smith, director of Timber Lake Playhouse’s (TLP) production of Working.

Smith is spending his 11th consecutive season at TLP in Mount Carroll, Ill., and is in his 20th year as resident director at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

Q: Why did you choose to return to TLP each year?

A: Mainly, it is one of the few places I can relax and enjoy myself and do the type of shows I wouldn’t ordinarily do in Chicago. It is a completely relaxed atmosphere for me.”

Q: How did you get started in theater?

A: I had just got discharged from the Marine Corp, and some guys I met talked me into being in a play. It was Mack Adam and Eve, a comedy, at a small community theatre group in Chicago.

Q: Out of all of the shows you have directed in your life, which ones stick out to you as your favorites?

A: The most recent successes normally stick out in your mind, so I would have to say Race by David Mamet that I directed at the Goodman this past year. Over my career, another show that always sticks out in my mind is August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. It set a box office record in the ’70s at the Goodman Theatre and was my first main stage production.

Q: What was your favorite show that you have directed at TLP?

A: The Crucible is probably my favorite. It was my second season here. Artistic Director Brad Lyons was in the show, and it featured performers from the Mount Carroll community. It was the show that really put me in touch with the people in the community here. I got to know them, which is why I come back here … it is like a second home to me.”

Q: You are currently directing Working. What can you tell us about that show?

Doing this show, I am saying, “I would like to introduce you to some people I know, ordinary people in their jobs.” It was originally a book. I saw it on stage when it was presented in Chicago, and thought what a big show from a big book. I saw it remounted again recently with only six characters. Immediately after the show, I called James Beaudry, TLP’s artistic director, and said that this show would work at TLP. I had never asked to do a show before, but I knew this show would be great here.

Q: You mentioned that you usually don’t pick the show that you direct here at TLP. What is that like for you, directing a show you didn’t select?

A: It is delightful! It really takes the pressure off of me. I don’t pick the show or the cast. I like coming in and directing in the second slot of the season. The company members are still fresh and energetic. This is not easy work for anyone, and the company still has a lot of energy. I am a new person coming in to direct, and they are always excited about that.

Q: Why should people come and see Working?

It is a good play, and everyone will be able to relate to it. Everyone works. Even if you don’t work, there is a housewife represented, so no one is left out. You know these people. They are ordinary people that you run into every day. The musical numbers are quite wonderful, especially with the six talented people that are on stage. It is my 11th year, and I have never had a show go up so fast. It is because the cast is so good and so talented. It has made my job easy. This group is more effective than the show in Chicago … I would put this production against any show with a big-priced ticket.

Working, the Musical, runs June 21-30. Performances are at 7:30 p.m., weekdays, and there are 2 p.m. matinees on Sundays and Wednesdays. New this season, there is also a Saturday matinee performance on opening weekends at 2 p.m. Tickets are available through the box office during regular business hours, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., daily, at or (815) 244-2035. Timber Lake Playhouse is at 8215 Black Oak Road, Mount Carroll, Ill.

From the June 20-26, 2012, issue

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