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CHICAGO Amid a successful career working behind the scenes at Goodman Theatre, Chicagoan and theatre director Chuck Smith is living proof of what can happen when you follow your dreams.

“I said I’m gonna follow my dream and I did.  I never looked back,” Smith said.

Now a seasoned theatre director, Smith can’t help but to smile when looking back at his family’s reaction when he abruptly decided to pursue a career in theatre.

“That’s when the problem with the family started. They thought I was sick, something’s gone wrong with Chuck,” Smith said.

That conversation was more than 50 years ago, when the then-computer programmer and US Marine was considering re-enlisting in the service when friends asked him to step in for an actor with a local theatre group.

“I like to say I walked into the theatre and never walked out,” Smith said.

Following a short stint with acting, Smith has spent the last 30 years working behind the scenes, directing numerous productions written by Black playwrights, including August Wilson’s ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ and ‘Pullman Porter Blues’ by Cheryl West.

“I prefer Black theatre. Black peoples work by African Americans. African American writers are good for me because I understand where they are coming from,” Smith said.

Smith landed a permanent gig at the Goodman Theatre in 1992, where some say he has remained a little low-key.

“A little under the radar in terms of being recognized as really a national treasure in the American theatre and it’s because he doesn’t promote himself, he promotes the artist,” Roche Schulfer, the theatre’s executive director and CEO said.

Smith holds an award from the Black Alliance Theatre and has directed more than 75 productions throughout his storied career.

The soon-to-be 84-year-old said the work he is most proud of is his recent production of ‘A Gem in the Ocean’, a story of Black residents living in post-slavery Pittsburgh with plenty of room for director’s interpretation.

Smith credits hard work and the help of his mentors for his success. Smith has taught and mentored students at Columbia College Chicago for more than 20 years and oversees an African American Playwriting Contest.

He offers some advice for those looking to break into the business.

“You have to be proactive. Nobody is going to come knocking on your doors. You have to do the knocking.  When the doors open, you better be ready to walk in.”

Chuck Smith is one of Chicago’s Very Own.