Q&A

Strong Female Lead: Katrina Lenk’s Journey From Waiting Tables to the Tonys

05.31.18

The Band’s Visit takes place in Bet Hatikva, a fictional Israeli desert town. As one of the show’s songs goes, it’s a “bland” place and “basically bleak and beige and blah, blah, blah.” Life is slowly going by when a traveling Egyptian police orchestra (yes, that’s a thing) arrives by mistake. The musicians have no choice but to coexist with the Israeli townspeople for a brief time.

Enter Dina, portrayed by Katrina Lenk, the owner of the town’s small café, which doubles at its unofficial spiritual center. Dina is kind hearted with a tough exterior. She also desperately dreams of being somewhere – anywhere – else, a longing Lenk can understand as she has experienced this same “wanting” about playing specific characters over the years. Broadway Spin talked to Lenk, a 2018 Tony nominee for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, about her journey to Broadway and her life as a strong female lead in New York.

Broadway Spin: Do you remember when you first wanted to perform?

Katrina Lenk: My desire to step into stories started when I was really young. When I was in grade school we did a version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin. I really wanted to be the Pied Piper. I was consumed by a need to play the role. I did not get the part, but I remember that feeling of wanting. I have had similar feelings about other parts, thinking, “I must play this.” There is something about being so drawn into a story. The idea of reading it and then getting to stand in a story and tell it yourself is so intoxicating. I think, “If I could just step into this story, how exciting would that be?”

BS: Your Israeli accent is so convincing. People might not realize you are American.

KL: I get great pleasure out of learning how other people speak and other languages. It’s like another form of empathy. I think, “What would it be like to speak like this? And what does that tell you about where that person is from?” It’s really hard to do accents and try to be as authentic as possible out of respect for the language. It’s intimidating and challenging – but I love it.

BS: When did you first hear about The Band’s Visit?

KL: It was a last-minute audition. As soon as I found out what it was, I thought, “I must watch the film [the musical is based on] to understand.” I fell in love with the film. They wanted me to sing the song “Omar Sharif,” so I got to learn it out of context. I fell in love with the song and had a wonderful time in the audition room, which is unusual.

BS: Your first Broadway role was understudying Alison Pill in The Miracle Worker as Annie Sullivan. But isn’t it true that you never got to go on? (Sidenote: Alison Pill is also on Broadway now — starring in Three Tall Women.)

KL: I never did go on. Thank God I didn’t because I was very intimidated by all those women’s performances! They were amazing. It was one of those instances where I was in L.A. and thinking, “Should I be an actor? What am I doing?” I was waiting tables and not getting auditions or jobs. Then out of the blue I got a call from the play’s director Kate Whoriskey asking if I was interested in understudying The Miracle Worker. We had worked together several times before. It was one of those times literally Broadway calls you. I thought, “I have to go.”

BS: And now here you are! What do you love about being in New York?

KL: In a way it reminds me of growing up in Chicago. There are neighborhoods and you can walk everywhere. I love the sense that there are always people around and yet no one really cares. Everyone has their own life that they’re living, and the diversity is fantastic. There is so much art and culture here.

BS: With such a packed performance schedule, do you ever have time to take in the art and culture here? What do you love to do?

KL: I like to go out to eat. There are so many places to eat in New York, which is another reason why I love it. I like Anyway Cafe, this tiny little Russian restaurant in the village. It’s in an intimate space and on certain nights they have someone playing music, either romantic Russian classical music or folk music. And they have Russian food and infused vodkas. It’s a charming little place.

The Band’s Visit is nominated for 11 Tony Awards and tickets are in play through Broadway Roulette.