Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Your production, A Mile in My Shoes, is currently running at the Hudson Backstage Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, before launching its national tour of the US. As the writer and star of the production, what can you share with us about your inspiration for writing this story?
Kathryn Taylor Smith: The Inspiration for AMIMS came from the sincere empathy and compassion I have for people, my curiosity of human behavior, and my desire to help a seemingly ignored or forgotten group of people. Years ago, whenever I saw a homeless person on the street, I would always wonder what their life was like before they were homeless and how being homeless impacted them now. At the time, I was reading The Artist Way, and one of the assignments was to write something every day. Whenever I passed a homeless person or saw or read a story about them on the news or online, I would write a short story or poem about them. I love documentaries, so once I decided to go deeper than making up stories about the homeless, interviewing people on the streets seemed to a logical way to start the process. I have an M.S. in clinical psychology so I was familiar with qualitative research and I knew that if I just interviewed enough people the story would unfold. After my friends found out what I was doing, they started referring me to people who had been homeless to interview. That led to people who work in agencies, shelters, politics, civil service, law, etc. I found that the stories of the people who help people are homeless were just as fascinating as the stories as the people who are homeless. Their selflessness, sacrifice and love for the homeless population really inspired me and gave me the motivation to tell their stories. Now, on a basic level, if you ask me why, all I can say is I am lead by my spirit. Whenever something won’t leave my consciousness I take that as a sign that I am suppose to do something; and for almost 10 years wanting to know more about people who are homeless and the people who help them would not let me go. So, instead of fighting it I started to write.
BD: The show has had many iterations throughout its development: finding its start in the embodiment of a single character, leading to an award-winning short film, advocacy work, and a premiere in the Hollywood Fringe Festival. What can you tell us about your journey in bringing this show to life?
KTS: AMIMS evolved from a character in a play, to a short film, to a solo show. I believe each evolution was spirit led, because I never knew what was next until it happened. Years ago, I had wrote an unrelated poem entitled “If These Shoes Could Talk,” but after I started interviewing people who were homeless, that poem kept popping up in my head until one day the shoes I referenced in the poem seemed to parallel the storied I had written. Not a coincidence, but led by a higher spirit. That poem now serves as bookends for my show. After 5 years of research, I had over 30 plus interviews and thought, “Okay, now what?” I honestly didn’t know if my research would lead me to writing a book, a documentary, a play, or a movie. It wasn’t until I submitted my synopsis (I hadn’t written the script yet.) to the Hollywood Fringe Festival ‘s 2018 Diversity Scholarship that the solo show was born. I thought if I won the scholarship then it must be meant to create a solo show. As fate would have it, out of 250 submissions, I was one of 10 awardees. I was awarded the scholarship in January 2018 and by June 3rd, I had written and world premiered my first solo show, A Mile in My Shoes.
BD: How would you describe your approach to visualizing and constructing this production, along with any other creative team members?
KTS: I am a student first. I believe wisdom is not what you know, but your ability to obtain the knowledge you don’t know; and there was a lot I didn’t know about writing a performing a solo show. So between January and June 2018 I spent every available hour developing my show. I’m fairly new to playwriting so I studied and researched solo shows. I’ve probably attended 20+ solo shows in my lifetime. At first it was just for the love of theatre, but after I started writing my show, I would go as research to see what I liked and didn’t like and to figure out the style of solo show I wanted to write. I read “Extreme Exposure,” a compilation of exerts from 42 solo shows. I watched solo shows on line. I even bought and listened to Charlayne Woodard’s trilogy of solo shows on CD in my car. I truly immersed myself in the world of solo shows. I’m a member of The Organization of Black Screenwriters. It was in this writers group that I flushed out my original ideas for the show. After I had my first draft, I reached out to several of my playwright and screenwriter friends and asked them to look over my monologues. They gave my amazing feedback, especially in the area of how to give all 16 characters different voices. I did everything and anything I could to develop the piece.
I’m a member of the Actors Studio – West, so as an actor I have the luxury of taking my work (auditions, scripts, monologues, etc) into class and working on them. It was in Allan Miller’s class that I really found each character’s voice, physicality, where their story lived inside my body, and how I connected to them and their story. I worked for months with Jon Sperry, a dialect coach, to learn the various accents of some of the characters in the piece. I also worked with a choreographer, James “Annex” Cleaver to create a mime dance that embodied what living on the streets looked and felt like.
My secret weapon was my director, Zadia Ife. She not only helped me select which monologues/characters were best for the show but she helped me develop my main character, Ester. Zadia has an MPS from Cornel and taught acting for years so she is an actor’s director. She really pushed me to find the core of each character, assigning me to write a detailed character study for all of my 16 characters. Plus being from the east coast she believes in giving theatre the attention it deserved. I’m a bit of a perfectionists, so together we happily rehearsed 3-4 times a week, 3 hours a day for the 6 weeks leading up to my world premiere. It was physically and mentally exhausting, particularly being a wife and mother of a 3 year old, but I believed the people who entrusted me to tell with their stories deserved 110% from me.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the performance?
KTS: I hope people will take away the power of #smallchange. Not everyone can build a shelter, donate millions of dollars, or write a law, but each of us have the power to do something. The smallest deed (I call #smallchange.) can create a rippling effect of good deeds. People who are homeless need so much; there’s nothing they wouldn’t appreciate. I quote Malcom Bane in my show, and this pretty much sums up my thoughts: “If we wait around until we can do everything for everyone instead of something for someone, we end of doing nothing for no one.”
BD: Are there any additional upcoming projects that you would care to share with our readers?
KTS: You can catch me on an upcoming episode of Grey's Anatomy, a commercial for Microsoft, and a print ad. I am currently developing a few projects: a play (Platinum Club), a short film that deals with Alzheimer’s (Forget My Knot), and a web series (TaylorMade). Also look for A Mile in My Shoes to hit the road for a 7-city national tour in 2019.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for A Mile in My Shoes?
KTS: We have 4 more dates. The show runs every Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Hudson Backstage Theatre. Tix: $25. Bring new or gently used shoes or toiletry items to donate.