Me: I have to be honest. THE SUBMISSION really challenged me because whenever I was experiencing the work, I couldn't help but think, "I didn't know that there was tension here." Growing up in and around Southeast Houston, I had never seen it between the two communities either.
Charles Smith: Yeah! You know. C'mon, man. You know, I think it's manufactured. I mean, go to Atlanta. [Laughs] Man, the community is there and I just don't think there is a disconnect. I don't think there's a riff. And if there is it's between the conservative Blacks or African-Americans who want to speak for the race. I've seen a couple of them on television, sort of superstitious and religious folk, who want to in the name of God try to say to somebody. That's been who they are. So, that's my take on it.
Me: What do you hope audiences take with them after seeing KNOCK ME A KISS?
Charles Smith: Hopefully they'll come out with a couple of things you. First, on a very sort of concrete level to understand that W.E.B. Du Bois did many great things, but as a father and as a husband he, and he admits this-he admitted this many times-he wasn't the best father, and he was not the best husband, to say the least. Again, he has admitted that and is aware of that. So, beginning with that, hopefully the audiences will understand that his wife and his daughter, his family, also sacrificed a great deal for his vision and for social equality in this country. You know, we may not know about Yolande Du Bois. We may not know about Nina Du Bois, but they sacrificed a great deal. They lived in the shadow, and they sacrificed their own desire and their own life for this. So, that's the one concrete thing. And on a very personal level, I hope that the audiences that see the play will think about choices that they make when it comes to love, when it comes to following their heart versus following what they think they should or are supposed to be doing. The play's about, "Do I do what everybody expects me to do or do I follow my own heart?" You know, I mean, that's what the play's about. So, hopefully, people will think about that and give that some good thought. I think a lot of times we try to put on a good front instead of saying, "No, this ain't right!" [Laughs] And the play's saying, "No, you gotta follow your heart."
Me: As an artist, what inspires you?
Charles Smith: Oh man, you know, that's a good question. What inspires me? Everything inspires me. Seeing people's lives and seeing the choices that they make. Understanding who we are today and how we got here, that I find incredibly fascinating. You now, I think a lot of folks don't understand who and where they are in life, and that inspiration for me is something central. So, that's one of the things that inspire me. And the answers to that come from, I think, the most surprising places. With this exploration in W.E.B. Du Bois' daughter, I think she was a pivotal figure and somebody we can learn from. I mean this happened in 1930, and I think we can trace back to it and that can inform us today about who we are and how we should live our lives.
Me: As an author, what advice do you offer to other aspiring playwrights?
Charles Smith: Aw man, keep at it. [Pauses] You know, you got to keep at it. You just can't write a play and then expect everybody to jump up and down, get excited, and call you brilliant because a lot of the times they do it right after you write the play [Laughs] they might not be truthful. So what you have to do, you write the play and when you get done with one, it's time to write another one. You've just got to keep moving forward like that. And don't try to figure out what the audience wants. Figure out what your voice is. Once you've figured out that, the audience will find you.
Me: Speaking of writing another play, do you have anything in the works that you can talk about?
Charles Smith: Yeah, a couple. You know, I'm working with Chuck [Smith], the director, on a musical adaptation of the Marcus Garvey play we did at the Griffin a number of years ago. And I'm working on a play about a young kid who was caught up in the civil war in Australia. It's based on this kid I met while I was in Australia, who has an incredibly fascinating story. So, those are a couple of the projects I'm working on now.
Houston audiences can see Charles Smith's KNOCK ME A KISS at the Ensemble Theatre through February 24, 2013. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.ensemblehouston.com/ or call (713) 520 - 0055.
Photo courtesy of Ensemble Theatre.