by george abud
The ascent, appreciation, and admiration of Katrina Lenk is an important event that should be dissected carefully, understood, and set as a benchmark of where we wish to go in the theatre.
The importance being that she is a genuine artist and she has been given a seat at the table.
Katrina Lenk is one of those rare artists bringing that old ethic and dignity into a new generation and a new world.
She listens more than she speaks. She seeks to understand. Her concern at the end of long work days is not ''am I going to get my praise,' but rather, 'did I serve the character?' She finds happiness in clarity and discovery. She does not purport to be perfect. She does not present herself as a superhuman, rather, she humanizes and makes real a hugely weighty responsibility. All her many gifts come from a sense of humanity and responsibility. She does not paint the world as rosey; she exists in something real, and that’s how she speaks about it. She conducts herself with grace, and offers respect to everyone. I could go on.
There is no bullshit with her. And that is sadly a rarer quality today than one wishes it to be. With Katrina we are being given portraits so real that we are revealed through them.
There are many great artists out there, of which I include her. But far fewer who get their due.
And while you thank God that she exists, you pray even harder that people break down their adoration and continue to use it as a guide map of what they wish to support. The genuine artists. Whatever Katrina Lenk may possess she leads fully from the point of an artist. She came to make and she came to give.
A prime example is the way people react to Katrina’s work. People’s overarching reaction to her is not about how she looks or how she sings, but rather how she affected them with her whole being. It is the whole of her abilities, her talents, her focus, and her soul that penetrate you. We are reacting to the artist, not to a trick, not to a look, nor to a sound, but to a whole person.
You may think this is all a given in the theatre; that whoever is able to make you feel that overwhelming sense of humanity gets the job. Not true.
I am an advocate of many things within the theatre community. Racial responsibility and representation in casting and on creative teams; in creating more opportunities for women; in gender parity in writing and casting; in accessibility to opportunities for actors of all means and status; in telling diverse and innovative stories; in expanding our definition of diversity everyday. But I think above all this the all encompassing thing is genuine artistry. The hiring of an artist who possesses the humanity and qualities to create vibrant, exposing, diverse, true art. And who will be hired regardless of their age, their race, their commercial appeal, their class, their able-ness, their status, etc. And I think through our cause of uplifting genuine artists, we will beget everything else. Because we will have filled our theatre with those who have come to create, who have come to challenge, who have come to support, to give, and to ultimately bring together.
Katrina Lenk has been concerned with one thing since the very beginning of The Band’s Visit: honoring the character.
Now. This is all not to say that great artists are not currently all around us and working in some capacity in many different corners of everywhere. This is more to highlight that those great artists are not always the one given the trust, the confidence, and the opportunity to have the work they deserve. I think it comes from the fact that many great artists are not cookie cutter. That is to say marketable. That is to say a continuation of the status quo.
We are told by our industry to be ourselves. To cherish and develop what makes us individual and unique. But a lot of times, when it comes down to the wire, it is that uniqueness that limits us from appearing to be able to appeal to a mass audience.
With Katrina Lenk we see a clear example of someone who is thoroughly gifted, wildly driven, and wholly original being given a seat at the table of “sure things." Or, those individuals who first and foremost seem to appeal to a mass audience. When it comes to Katrina, what she is first and foremost is human. Just think of the richness that could further inhabit our theatre if we had more trust in people rather than marketing analytics.
It begins with our misplaced value system. We say we want raw, evocative, form-pushing, real, impacting stories and story-tellers, but the way we speak, the way we write, what we show up for and what we spend our money on leans far more towards celebrity, towards wealth, towards commercial beauty, towards someone else’s definition of the world.
So in true form to our inspiration of this writing, Katrina Lenk, let us all strive not to imitate her, but to honor her and those like her by fighting to be unabashedly ourselves. And let those in the casting seats honor that by allowing these genuine artists their own seat at the table.
If we are to continue towards a theatre built on humanity, whether the stories be big or small, then Katrina Lenk shouldn’t be the exception to the rule, she should be the basis for it.