Alumna Kathryn Taylor Smith has accomplished much in the years since her 1993 graduation from Southeast Missouri State University. From television acting to now performing in a one-woman show she wrote and produced, Smith says she continues to find her niche in Los Angeles, California.
After completing her undergraduate work in psychology with a minor in mass communications at Southeast, she went on to earn her Master of Science in clinical psychology from Emporia State University.
Smith had a successful career as a counselor and therapist, but felt that her true calling was in acting and to be an artist.
Over the years, Smith has appeared in numerous TV shows, including “The Bold and the Beautiful,” “Entangled,” “Samantha Who,” “Mad Men,” “The Young and the Restless,” movies, including “A Good Day to Be Black and Sexy,” “3 Faces of Evelyn,” “Nana’s Pancakes,” “What Goes Around Comes Around,” and theatre productions, including “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train,” “Love’s Holiday,” “Out of the Box: 3 Woman Show 1 Woman Show,” and “A Raisin In the Sun.” She has also earned multiple producer, writer and director credits.
She says she loves performing, and exemplifies that going after your dream is possible while also making a living doing what you are passionate about in life.
On choosing to pursue an acting career:
I never planned to pursue acting as a career. It seemed like an unrealistic goal. At the time I was single with no children and working as therapist at a battered women’s shelter, but I was moonlighting as an actor for no reason other than I loved it. I had booked a few commercials and print jobs and was performing in regional theatre. I told myself I would move to Los Angeles and try this thing called acting.
Next to being a parent, working as an actor/producer is the hardest and most fulfilling job there is. Auditioning is like interviewing for 50 jobs before you get hired, and that job only lasts for a week. Then you do it all over again. On the other hand, you can book a commercial and live off that commercial for three to six months. If you’re lucky, you work on a TV show or movie for a few months and you have the rest of the year to travel, spend time with friends and family, or work on a passion project. There is a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility in your schedule as an artist. There is also a rare sense of fulfillment and purpose that comes when you get to do exactly what you want to do with your life.
On her favorite roles and moments as an actor:
My favorite role is the one I am currently playing. It is a one-woman show that I wrote, produced and star in, “A Mile in My Shoes.” I play 19 different characters based on research and personal interviews with the homeless and people who advocate for them. I am extremely proud of the show because it is a wonderful showcase of my talents while raising awareness and compassion for people who are homeless.
I have several favorite moments, including screening a film I starred in, “A Good Day to be Black & Sexy,” at the Sundance Film Festival; performing the play “Out The Box: A 2 Woman 1 Woman Show” at the National Black Theatre Festival; screening the short films I produced, “Homeless Destiny” and “3 Faces of Evelyn,” in film festivals across the country; and shooting an episode of Hawaii 5-0 in Hawaii for 10 days that featured real veteran actors.
On how Southeast prepared and influenced her career and personal life:
I attended Southeast on a full track and field scholarship, and I was a first generation college student who was raised by a single mother. Without a scholarship I would not have been able to afford college.
College life contributed to my confidence as an artist and woman. Outside of being on the track team, I was extremely active on campus in organizations such as Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Black Student Union, Ebony Players, NAACP, Emerging Leaders, and Student Council. These organizations helped mold me and taught me leadership skills, the value of hard work, and the importance of giving back to the community.
On advice for Southeast students and artists:
Be a student of life. Like graduating, being successful in the entertainment business takes hard work, determination, dedication and sacrifice. The most successful person isn’t always the most talented person. It’s the person who puts in the work. Don’t let being a famous superstar be your only definition of success. Define success for yourself. If that means working a traditional job while you write that award-winning script or raise the money to make a feature film, do it. You might be unknown but make a great living as a commercial actor, voice- over actor or staff writer. Learn about all the amazing careers in the industry. You’ll be surprised all the things you could do that you might really love and make great money.
Being an artist, you often feel like you have to focus 110 percent on “making it.” You constantly live in fear that if you step away from the business, you will miss your big break. You won’t. I believe you can’t escape your destiny. What life has for you is for you, so get married, have a family, travel, go home for the holidays, and enjoy your life. The more life you’ve lived and the more experiences you’ve had, the better artist you will become because you will have more to draw from. Live your life to the fullest and know that your dream will catch up with you.