By Renee Santos
Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 03/21/2023
With a substantial acting career in TV, Film, and the Stage, Kimleigh Smith returns to the Solo Performance arena at The Whitefire Theater in Los Angeles, with her award-winning show “T-O-T-A-L-L-Y,” bringing a reckoning for silenced women of sexual assault and healing by showcasing a miraculous piece of art that doesn’t retraumatize, instead, it nudges the artist and audience to a bigger, expanded place.
You don’t know what you are in for in the best way when Smith enters the stage. It takes no time at all for her to forge an easy, sure connection with the crowd by slipping fully into the commitment of her 17-year-old cheerleader self with comedic earnestness, giving poignancy to the apropos title of this piece. You can sense how attuned she is to our presence, as her audience quickly becomes the scene partner in her narration. She hits a nerve and that is what great storytellers do. Her story is a remarkable one, but the delivery of the story is what makes “T-O-T-A-L-L-Y” phenomenal.
The number of female solo performers has grown significantly on the trails of the #MeToo movement, but amid the overflow, Kimleigh Smith’s story began on the stage a decade before, raising questions about how long these accounts have needed to be told. As critical as the gravity of the #MeToo movement is, it was slow to embrace the stories of women of color. Kimleigh’s visibility as a proud empowered black woman layers her narrative even more. The systemic scrutiny and marginalization of black stories are assuaged by her refusal to dim her light and to powerfully speak her truth.
Sexual assault stories need to be told in all their intersectional complexity and fullness. It is a subject that’s simply not going to go away, it is sadly rooted in the fabric of our society, and women of color have an important contribution to this story.
Her account of sexual assault is preserved in a complex way. She presents it through subtle physical movements demonstrating the overarching traumatic paralysis that happens to women who has lived this story.
“T-O-T-A-L-L-Y” floats between two timelines, the present, and the past, showing the younger and older incarnation of the courageous woman from teenage cheerleader to empowered Superhero by the play’s end.
I had the opportunity to sit down with a few members of her audience to get a testimonial of their experience and I found my interviews with some of the men to be quite compelling. Many of the men commented on how they may have been witnesses to their male peers having crossed lines and not known how to advocate for their female friends. There are reparations for men in society and they are feeling it. Smith commented, “It’s important that men see this story because how many young men are at a frat party and witness an assault and look the other way, not knowing they have an opportunity to prevent a lifelong trauma by simply stepping in.” Men have a role in this story and Kimleigh Smith eloquently draws men into the reflection of that responsibility.
If seeing this powerful piece wasn’t amazing enough, I got to sit down for a interview with the creator, performer, and artist behind this whole journey, Kimleigh Smith, to answer of few of my bubbling questions…
You’ve been performing the show for over a decade what compels you to keep sharing your journey and how has the show evolved over the years?
It came to me in a dream and I knew this story was my soulmate. I believe when you are given a gift to deliver a story you must do it. There are a million times I want to put this away and every time I try it resurfaces because this is what I’m supposed to do. I had outgrown the end of my own show after my father passed so I knew I had to make some changes and keep this story going.
A solo show is a very unique platform for showcasing a person’s story. What obliges you as an artist to share your experience on this platform?
I tried Stand-Up and then I saw Whoopi Goldberg’s show, “Whoopi.” I was so in awe of how each character she created had a life and it wasn’t just funny. It was touching and poignant. When I was recovering from my kidney donation everyone was laughing and I knew there was an opportunity to capture the dimensional layers of me coping with my own story.
What about Solo Show draws an audience in?
I’m not for someone else telling someone else’s story. I believe an audience is drawn in by a person’s truth. We are in a world that loves reality TV, and a solo show is the ultimate reality show.
What is your continuing goal for “T-O-T-A-L-L-Y?”
I would love to have a special, I would love to follow in Whoopi’s footsteps, not to become Whoopi, but because what I believe solo shows can do on a global market is open more eyes and help us all independently transform and heal the world through our personal experience.
Smith has made a few subtle changes to this newest production. Her show is a living breathing organism, as she grows, so does the chronicle.
Audiences can’t get enough, it has quite a following, and many return season after season. I spoke with friend, colleague, and “T-O-T-A-L-L-Y” regular, Jennifer Lee Weaver about her experience this time and why she keeps returning, “I’m always excited to see how the show evolves. I’ve seen the show seven times and every time I come, it is the best time I’ve ever seen it.”
Throughout, Smith’s performance moves with vulnerability and honesty, the kind of lightning in a bottle that deserves a wide release. A solo show can oftentimes be gluttonous but Kimleigh Smith squashes this stereotype and draws you down the yellow brick road by telling an important story with poise, heartbreak, and laughter. To hold an audience captive for over an hour, the story can’t be exhausting the entire time, and she avoids that with precision. The layers Smith’s story provides is the epitome of why audiences are drawn to the intimacy of one-person storytelling. The human condition is universal, and a solo show done well uses separatism to find the collective. Kimleigh Smith masterfully finds that union.
If you missed “T-O-T-A-L-L-Y” have no fear because it’s “totally” returning June 25th 2023 for a One Night Only show. To stay connected to her road to the next stage visit www.kimleighsmith.com/totally