Many theater directors are former actors. Some come from the other side of the business, from the backstage world of set building and lighting design. Bob Knuth, director of "Enchanted April," opening today in previews at Circle Theatre, is one of those rare directors with experience both as an actor and as a set designer.
Which is why he is currently both the producing director and resident scenic director at Circle Theatre.
Knuth cut his teeth early as a director.
"I started directing in high school," he says, "at a children's theater I acted in when I grew up."
But from the beginning Knuth, who works during the day as an art director at Second City, was also drawn to the world of design.
"Every show I have directed since that theater in high school," Knuth says, "I have also designed."
Knuth moved to Chicago in the '90s, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, to study at Northwestern University. He also found work as a resident designer at a small Chicago theater company, Bailiwick Repertory Theatre, and at the CenterLight Theatre in Northbrook.
Knuth came to the Forest Park-based Circle Theatre in 2003 as both a director and a designer.
"I currently design all of the sets at Circle," Knuth says, "whether I am directing or not. I enjoy coming up with something new and different on each production."
Almost from the moment he began at Circle he has been trying to get the rights to do "Enchanted April." Adapted from the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, the play tells the story of four English people whose lives are renewed on a trip to Italy in April.
Part of the play takes place in England and part in Italy. Knuth was attracted to challenge of creating a set that would show in an instant the difference between these two worlds.
"When the couples go to Italy," Knuth says, "The world on stage should be much more three-dimensional somehow."
Knuth also liked the spirit of both the novel and the play.
"This romantic comedy is all about relationships," Knuth says. "Each person in the story has to get through some pain. One couple is having trouble in their marriage because the man is too busy with his career and the woman is lonely. The only couple has had some tragedy in their relationship I don't want to reveal because it will spoil the story. But once they get through that they blossom and grow. It is a very heartwarming show."
Knuth is attracted to shows that are uplifting.
"I usually direct musicals," he says, "and I usually look for that story where there is a transformation, where there is a journey and love. I love it when people leave the shows I direct feeling better about themselves. I love plays that inspire people and give them hope."
Enchanted April is opens in previews April 25. The press opening for the show is April 30 and the show runs until June 8 at Circle Theatre, 7300 W. Madison St., Forest Park. For tickets and information call (708) 771-0700.