Updated Mon, Aug 20, 2012 11:00 am
This fall marks the release of Charles Smith's book, The Gospel According to James and Other Plays, published by Ohio University Press.
Smith is an award-winning playwright whose work has received critical praise from The New York Times and The Chicago Sun-Times.
He is also a Distinguished Professor of Theater at Ohio University and is the head of OU's Professional Playwriting Program.
Five of Smith's previously published and performed works have been collected in The Gospel According to James and Other Plays. The book is a cross-section of his career, with one play, Jelly Belly, dating back to Smith's grad school days.
Each play is set in a not-so-distant past and deals with themes that range from race to identity in the United States. For some playwrights, writing about a bygone era can be a challenge, but Smith enjoys it and finds a certain freedom in the past.
"For me, it’s a little liberating because the plays are set in the past and they appear to address issues that are set in the past," he said. "What that does is free me up to address contemporary issues head on, some things I would probably not be able to address if the plays were contemporary."
It also helps the plays connect with the audience, which can be sensitive to topics like race, according to Smith. By setting the plays in the past, people seem more willing to listen to the message of the play with open ears.
"[With contemporary plays] the audience thinks that the play is trying to preach to them or change their point of view and they shut down. With a historical play, they tend not to do that," said Smith. "They look at a historical play and say ‘the people are from the past, those people are a lot dumber than we are today.'"
Smith’s plays may be set in the past, but much of his inspiration comes from living in the present while walking around campus or just going to class.
"I’m inspired by things I see everyday, things I learn everyday, questions that I have everyday," he said. "That’s where I get my inspiration."
Ohio University Press has an October publication date targeted for The Gospel According to James and Other Plays. For more information, visit www.ohioswallow.com.