Katya Stepanov waves at me and smiles warmly from behind the turnstiles in a building on 8th Avenue that houses tons of artist performance spaces. There’s a black matador boater hat on her head, a furry grey and brown coat around her shoulders. The closer she gets, the more I realize her mascara is a bright blue, making her eyes pop, impossible to look away from. She has just left rehearsal for a reading of a play called Divo and Diavolo: A Tale of Two Tenors by Adam Kraar, about the life of David Tucker, the son of world-famous tenor opera singer Richard Tucker who also chased dreams of opera glory despite his father’s wishes. The workshop will run on October 19th and 20th and tickets are available here.
We make our way to Piccolo Cafe and grab some seats by the window to eat our salads. After graduating acting school, Katya was quickly able to get her Actor’s Equity card by doing regional theatre around the country. But speaking to Katya you don’t have an experience of that dreaded “Actor Factor,” a visibly fake interest in and positivity toward whatever comes out of a person’s mouth. She speaks eloquently and with real passion about her work, an almost fairy-like sense of wonder at the wildness of her experiences.
Katya was born in Minsk, Belarus shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Katya’s mother, who is Jewish, was able to bring her family to the U.S. on refugee status. The family lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Teaneck, New Jersey while her parents learned English and went to local colleges to get their degrees. They got jobs shortly after graduating and moved into a house, hoping to give their daughter and later their son the opportunities they hoped for.
Katya is a native speaker of English and Russian, was a professional ballroom dancer at a young age, and acted all throughout high school while maintaining a high GPA. She got into a prestigious acting conservatory program for college, and then moved back to New York where her regional theatre experiences began. She also began teaching yoga and doing art direction and production design.
She finds often, to her frustration, that based on her name she’s brought in to read for roles that are primarily “Russian Sex Trafficking Victim” or “Spy” when it comes to TV and Film (thankfully theatrical productions, like Divo and Diavolo, offer more diverse roles). But her desire to write runs as deep as her love of performing, and she’s hoping to create her own work that can show the breadth and depth of immigrant experiences beyond American stereotypes.
We head back to the rehearsal space and I get to see Katya play both a high school singer and a beatnik soprano, though she has even more roles in the rest of the production. She warms up her voice to sing and her cast is pleasantly surprised. At this point, I wonder, what can’t she do?