“A lot of times when peo­ple talk about sex­ual as­sault, men are never in­volved. It’s just women sit­ting around and talk­ing. And my whole phi­los­o­phy around this is as fol­lows: if we don’t bring men into the con­ver­sa­tion, there’s re­ally no con­ver­sa­tion,” say

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Anna Vireo

On March 8, the In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, Lithua­nian au­di­ences will be treated to the Euro­pean pre­miere of a multi-award win­ning per­for­mance, “T-O-T-A-L-LY!”, writ­ten and per­formed by Kim­leigh Smith. Kim­leigh Smith is a best-sell­ing au­thor and ac­com­plished ac­tress from the US, whose tele­vi­sion cred­its in­clude: Bones, The Men­tal­ist, Par­ent­hood, Law and Or­der: LA, E.R., Heroes, and many oth­ers. Her solo show T-O-T-A-L-L-Y is a re­mark­ably hon­est and open per­for­mance about her rape, the ob­sta­cles she over­came on her jour­ney to heal, and the lessons she’s learned. It has gar­nered her uni­ver­sal praise and mul­ti­ple awards, in­clud­ing the Wash­ing­ton Post’s Editor’s Pick, one of Wall Street Jour­nal’s Top Shows to Watch, the Best in The­atre Award, and Top of Fringe Award at the Hol­ly­wood Fringe Fes­ti­val. Be­fore em­bark­ing on her tour in Lithua­nia, Kim­leigh Smith sat down to talk to The Baltic Times about what drives her art and life.

Why did you choose Lithua­nia for the Euro­pean pre­miere of your one-woman show T-O-T-A-L-L-Y!?

In 2007, I was vis­it­ing New York. I was hav­ing a great time and ran­domly ran into a Rus­sian dance ex­hibit in a lit­tle the­atre in Soho. In the au­di­ence, I met the beau­ti­ful Aiste Ptakauske, a scriptwriter and pro­ducer from Lithua­nia, who was in New York on an artist’s res­i­dency at the time. We struck up a great friend­ship and just con­tin­ued con­nect­ing on all lev­els. I knew we had friend­ship for life. Cut to 2010, when Aiste is back in New York to get her MA in Tele­vi­sion, Ra­dio, and Film. I in the mean­time, get ac­cepted to the New York Fringe, and Aiste fi­nally gets to see my show T-O-T-A-L-L-Y, which I’ve been talk­ing about over the years. I guess a lit­tle bug was put in Aiste’s brain that she wanted to bring the show to Lithua­nia. We talked about it briefly and rather frivolously, and that was it. No­body thought it was go­ing to hap­pen. And then I get an email at the be­gin­ning of 2016 say­ing, ‘Would you be in­ter­ested in com­ing to Lithua­nia?’ To be hon­est, Lithua­nia wasn’t re­ally on my bucket list un­til I met Aiste. But my brain came to­gether and I im­me­di­ately said, ‘Yes!’ I barely even skipped a beat. This tour has turned out to be some­thing that I never thought would re­ally hap­pen, but it has ac­tu­ally be­come a dream come true. It is such an honor to come to a coun­try, which re­spects the­atre like Lithua­ni­ans do. I feel re­ally blessed and hon­ored to be a young black woman to be in­vited to Lithua­nia to per­form.

Are you do­ing any re­search on Lithua­nia be­fore go­ing on a tour there?

In­ter­est­ingly, I’ve now started meet­ing all these peo­ple who ran­domly say to me things like, ‘Oh, my wife is from Lithua­nia!’ But I want to do more re­search so that I feel con­nected to the coun­try, as well as be­ing pre­pared to un­der­stand what Lithua­nia is like. Also, I want to learn a tiny bit of the lan­guage, so that I can get on stage and say some­thing in Lithua­nian that’s re­ally cute and fun. I think it means some­thing when some­body takes the time to ac­tu­ally learn about where they’re go­ing, in­stead of show­ing up and be­ing ar­ro­gant. With ev­ery­thing that’s go­ing on in the US now, there’s so much at stake, not just for me or what I be­lieve in, but in rep­re­sent­ing Amer­ica as a coun­try, re­ally. Amer­i­cans can be so snobby and ar­ro­gant. They go to other coun­tries and know noth­ing about them. I never was that way. Wher­ever I used to travel, I al­ways learned about that cul­ture to re­ally un­der­stand it. That’s why I’m go­ing to learn about Lithua­nia too.

Why did you choose to write about rape?

When I first had an idea to write a solo show, noth­ing in my mind would have ac­tu­ally led me to the show that I have now. I did not want to write about rape or any of that. I started tak­ing a writ­ing class, but ev­ery­thing I wrote was ut­ter shite, the worst writ­ing ever. I was so frus­trated! The in­struc­tor had us do these ex­er­cises: ‘Write about the one thing you wouldn’t want to write about’. That was rape. ‘Write about the one thing that you would love to write about’. That was about be­ing an ac­tress. So I had all these dif­fer­ent top­ics, none of which came to fruition.

In 1999, I do­nated a kid­ney to my cousin back in Kansas. When you do some­thing like that, some­thing changes in you. I came back to LA awake and ready to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. I knew I had to do some­thing more than I had been do­ing so far. A friend of mine sug­gested we do a show to­gether. We took a writ­ing class with Paula Killen, who be­came my di­rec­tor of T-O-TA-L-L-Y! years later. That was one of those break-through classes where you write for three days, and you put up what you write on the fourth day. Pe­riod. And again, ev­ery­thing I write is ut­ter shite. On Satur­day, we are go­ing to read what we’re sup­posed to start re­hears­ing on Sun­day. I have this thing that I read to ev­ery­body, and Paula, who is one of the most hon­est peo­ple in the world, says, ‘Well, that’s a re­ally nice man­i­festo, but what are you re­ally try­ing to say?’. And I think to my­self: ‘Who are you to judge me? You don’t know me!’ I go home cry­ing. Lit­er­ally! Sob­bing like a baby. The next day I come back and I don’t have any­thing. I’m sup­posed to be per­form­ing that Sun­day for the class and then on Mon­day for ev­ery­body else, and I don’t have any­thing. So Paula says, ‘Just get up on stage and start talk­ing’. And I think ev­ery­body can see that I have noth­ing and ev­ery­body made fun of what I al­ready had. I’m a to­tal wreck. You tend to have a break­down right be­fore you’re go­ing to have a break­through. And I was hav­ing an ul­ti­mate break­down. So, I get up on stage and I ask one of my class­mates to record it for me. And… it is bril­liant! I don’t know where it came from. I think from all the writ­ing from the first class, from the sec­ond class, from just think­ing about it, this came to fruition. I couldn’t be­lieve it. I took the record­ing that my class­mate had on her phone, I tran­scribed it, and that be­came the sec­ond half of my show. I per­formed it on Mon­day. Stand­ing ova­tion! Peo­ple were cry­ing, laugh­ing… it was the whole thing. So the friend with whom I took Paula’s class and I de­cided to do our show, The Black and the Jew. Cut to Septem­ber 14, 2008: it’s two weeks be­fore we are sup­posed to per­form, and I don’t have a freak­ing show at all. Then one day I go to sleep and I dream the en­tire first half of the show. And I start cry­ing. I be­lieve in God, so I say to Him, ‘You’re funny! I was try­ing to write this show for two years and I’ve come up with noth­ing. And now it comes to me in a dream?!’. And that was the be­gin­ning of this show that I did not want to write at all, that I was re­sist­ing in tears and kick­ing and scream­ing and fear. But I broke through that fear and cre­ated some­thing that was re­ally mag­i­cal. Rape was the last topic I wanted to write about. It was the last thing that I wanted peo­ple to know about me. At that point, no­body knew I had been raped, ex­cept the rapists, my­self, and my one friend to whom I talk in the show say­ing, ‘This has not hap­pened to me’. I was to­tally in de­nial. But this is the show now. It re­ally was a la­bor of guts, blood, and tears.

What do you con­sider to be the great­est suc­cess of the show?

I was re­ally ready to be done with the show af­ter I did The Black and the Jew. I thought: ‘Two nights, and I’m out!’ But peo­ple kept lov­ing it. They were telling me: ‘You can’t stop!’ So I did the fes­ti­val cir­cuit. And I did very well. I won the One Fes­ti­val in New York. I won the Best The­atre and the Best Solo Show at the Hol­ly­wood Fringe Fes­ti­val. And that was re­ally a big deal. The awards felt like it was go­ing to be the great­est suc­cess of the show. And then some­body, out of the blue, called me and said, ‘I saw your show The Black and the Jew. We would love you to come to our fes­ti­val in Las Ve­gas.’ So I did that. Ev­ery­body loved it. A cou­ple of months later, one of the women that saw my show in Las Ve­gas asked me, ‘Can you come to my school and per­form?’ I ended up do­ing that three or four times. Then it has be­come this roll of peo­ple ask­ing me to come do my show at their uni­ver­si­ties. And that’s what it parleyed into: my lit­tle story has turned into a lit­tle move­ment. So my great suc­cess is know­ing that I cre­ated some­thing that is chang­ing peo­ple’s lives. When I went to my first univer­sity, the en­tire foot­ball team came to the show (and I was gang raped by three foot­ball play­ers). A lot of times when peo­ple talk about sex­ual as­sault, men are never in­volved. It’s just women sit­ting around and talk­ing. And my whole phi­los­o­phy around this is as fol­lows: if we don’t bring men into the con­ver­sa­tion, there’s re­ally no con­ver­sa­tion. We, the women, are trans­formed, but the men are not. How can we con­tinue? When a group of col­lege foot­ball play­ers came to see the show and were moved and trans­formed by it, not go­ing: ‘eek, gross!’, but laugh­ing and fol­low­ing it to a tooth, I knew I had some­thing spe­cial. What tran­spired on that cam­pus and the other cam­puses I’ve been to is life chang­ing. And I be­lieve that is the great­est suc­cess of the show.

In Lithua­nia, you’re go­ing to per­form in the evenings. What are you go­ing to do with your day­time?

I’m go­ing to give lec­tures to stu­dents and young adults in Kau­nas, Vil­nius, and Klaipeda. I will preface my lec­tures with my story, and my jour­ney, and how I ended up where I am to­day. Orig­i­nally, I didn’t want to be an ac­tor. I wanted to be a child psy­chol­o­gist. I grad­u­ated col­lege with a psy­chol­ogy de­gree, my mi­nor in so­ci­ol­ogy, and started to study for the bar, be­cause I was go­ing to be­come a lawyer so that I could help chil­dren. And then, one day I re­al­ized: ‘This isn’t what I want to do! I want to per­form’. So I be­came a pro­fes­sional dancer in Chicago and then an ac­tress from that. I re­ally want to con­nect young peo­ple to this jour­ney, be­cause it’s al­ways been help­ful to peo­ple to hear that some­times you may think you’re go­ing in one di­rec­tion, and you think this is what you’re go­ing to do, and that’s what you want out of your life. But when you get to do what you’ve been put on this Earth to do, when you get that spark, it re­ally changes ev­ery­thing. The day I au­di­tioned for my first play, I knew that was where I wanted to go. But, the big­gest part of this story is this-- in writ­ing my one-woman show, I’ve put ev-

“A lot of times when peo­ple talk about sex­ual as­sault, men are never in­volved. It’s just women sit­ting around and talk­ing. And my whole phi­los­o­phy around this is as fol­lows: if we don’t bring men into the con­ver­sa­tion, there’s re­ally no con­ver­sa­tion. We, the women, are trans­formed, but the men are not. How can we con­tinue?”

ery­thing I loved do­ing to­gether. Now I get to help peo­ple the way I al­ways wanted to. I get to help stu­dents and young adults change their lives, as well as do what I love, which is dance, act, and sing. Although in the course of my life, I was go­ing to go in one di­rec­tion, and then I went the other di­rec­tion, both of those di­rec­tions have come to­gether. And now I am whole. So that’s re­ally what this is about. My whole phi­los­o­phy is about be­ing your own su­per­hero, and that is be­ing the most amaz­ing self that you can be. So in my lec­tures, I’ll be talk­ing a lot about steps you have to take to honor your su­per­hero and be the awe­some per­son that you’re go­ing to be, so that you can take flight and live a pow­er­ful life. These lec­tures are go­ing to be a nice jour­ney along my life, but not in the show way, rather in the be­hind-thescenes way of who I am.

Con­sid­er­ing ev­ery­thing you’ve been through, do you be­lieve in the con­cept of your ‘sec­ond half’?

I be­lieve that there are many soul­mates for us. Which one you meet is un­be­knownst to you, de­pend­ing on where you end up. I’ve met some amaz­ing men in my life that I loved dearly, but none of which I would like to spend my life with. I’ve yet to meet a per­son that makes me a bet­ter per­son, and that I make a bet­ter per­son. I want that. I do be­lieve there is a sec­ond half that lifts your spir­its. It’s like in friend­ship: you meet some friends that lift you up, and some friends who you are ex­hausted by. I be­lieve that’s the same with re­la­tion­ships. I’m re­ally ex­cited about the idea of meet­ing my sec­ond half that lifts me up, and whom I lift up, and we be­come bet­ter peo­ple be­cause of each other.

Kim­leigh Smith is a best-sell­ing au­thor and an ac­com­plished ac­tress.

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