There are pieces of Kim Ehly’s life in her new play Baby GirL, which makes its world premiere at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale. Ehly directs the play, which is also the first production for her new theater company, Kutumba Theatre Project.
The play about a spirited daydreamer named Ashley, who ends up beings alienated by her adoptive family when she comes out as a lesbian, is taken from real-life experience. Well, at least part of it is, she says. “This is my story, though semi-autobiographical. It has a heightened sense of reality and plays with fantasy. Some of the events happened and some did not, and some are a combination of both.”
The play’s description sums it up: “When Ashley’s fantasies meet reality, expect the unexpected.”
Ehly says that the birthing process of Baby GirL began during a New York City writing workshop. Then there was the assignment during a Strasberg scene study class to create a personal monologue. “It was supposed to be two pages long,” she says. “It ended up being seventeen and a half pages.”
That wasn’t unusual for Ehly who says she’s been journaling since she was a kid. “There are pieces of my life in this story.”
When she looked at the multi-layered monologue, the actress considered creating a one-woman show. “But I started seeing pictures in my head,” she confides. So she decided to write a screenplay. “I gave myself permission to get carried away in creating this story.”
When she landed back in Florida three years ago, a reading of the screenplay was produced at The Women’s Theatre Project in Fort Lauderdale. “Many of the people who saw it knew me from theater and they said, ‘you know, you could make this into a play.’“
She took their advice and, in between working on her master’s degree in psychotherapy at Florida Atlantic University (she’ll graduate next year), she began reworking the screenplay to turn it into a play.
In February of 2011, New Theatre in Coral Gables presented a reading of Baby GirL, the play. It was a familiar place for the actress/writer who had appeared on the very same stage in New Theatre’s productions of Mauritius, The Hour of the Tiger, The Gates of Choice and Fill Our Mouths. “The reading went really well,” she says. “I was overwhelmed by the response. I knew then that I could either try to get the play produced or produce it myself.”
She chose the latter. Now the play, in a full production with an eight character cast, has found a place to call home at Empire Stage, more familiar territory for Ehly. “I did many shows with Sol Theatre so I know the space. It’s a bit nostalgic for me to have my show there.” The space, formerly known as Sol Theatre Company, has been home to David R. Gordon's Empire Stage since 2009.
“I always pictured the play in the kind of intimate setting that Empire Stage offers,” she says.
While the main character, Ashley, is lesbian, the playwright says the story is universal. “It’s not just a coming of age story or a coming out story. It’s about finding where you fit in and discovering that you can choose who your family is — it doesn’t have to be the family that you were born into.”
Producing Baby GirL has created a new theater family for the actress/playwright/director/theater company founder with her Kutumba Theatre Project. The word, Katumba, has various meanings in many languages: to leap, to strut proudly, a unique bond amongst community members, family or kin.
“My intention with Kutumba is to give a voice to communities that are underserved. Women's plays are certainly under produced, and in South Florida this is no exception. Plays involving lesbians are even more rare. My personal mission in life is to encourage, empower, and inspire the awakening of the human spirit with the gift of my voice and the voice of my actions.”
Baby GirL runs July 13 through August 5 at Empire Stage, 1140 North Flagler Drive, Fort Lauderdale. 954-678-1496. www.empirestage.com. Note: The play contains adult content.