For Stefanée Martin, a 2012 theater alumna, a normal commute on the train could become an enthusiastic encounter with a stranger.
Martin plays Yolanda Kipling on “The Get Down,” which debuted on Netflix on Aug. 12. “The Get Down,” created by Baz Luhrmann, is set in the 1970s as a fictional portrayal of the rise of hip-hop, punk and disco in New York.
Martin said people who have approached her in person usually have a connection to the show in some way.
She said many people talk to her about growing up in the 70s. Some have even discussed their love of hip-hop culture with her.
Martin’s desire to be an actress grew out of an unwillingness to go to her neighborhood high school. Martin, a Maryland native, attended a performing arts high school and began studying acting.
“Acting, for me, combines a lot of the things I already like. Things that otherwise would be hobbies of mine like reading, writing and connecting with others,” Martin said.
She decided to study theater at Temple after falling in love with Philadelphia and the diversity of Temple’s campus, she said.
“I met some really amazing artists and really connected to Temple and the city of Philadelphia,” Martin said.
At Temple, Martin learned different approaches to acting to which she was previously unexposed, like the Lecoq technique, which uses mask work, and the Michael Chekhov technique, which focuses on the actor’s imagination. During her time at Temple, she starred as Marianne in the 17th-century French play “Tartuffe.” She also played Wendla in excerpts of the play “Spring Awakening.”
Paury Flowers, the recruitment coordinator for the Theater Film and Media Arts Recruitment Office, said Martin’s breakout role is like a “flag on the moon” for students currently studying theater.
“It shows somebody was here, somebody did this. Now you go out and be great,” Flowers added. “If this is the pathway you’re thinking about, not only is it possible, but you have all of the resources at Temple to be able to create these opportunities.”
Martin said performing live is “electrifying.”
“It’s a mix of doing what you feel like you were born to do and also being completely pushed out of your comfort zone,” Martin said.
After graduating from Temple, Martin continued to study acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco where she received a master’s in acting in 2015. It was at her senior showcase for the school that she was noticed by Dawn Steinberg, vice president of casting for Sony.
Steinberg reached out to her about auditioning for “The Get Down.” While still in school, she filmed and sent in an audition tape. Luhrmann loved it and cast Martin in the show.
Martin said casting was a “crazy process” at the beginning and at first, she didn’t have many details about the project or her role.
“I thought it was a pilot. I thought I was maybe going to be needed for a couple of days and it would be over,” she said.
Martin’s character is the best friend of Mylene Cruz, one of the main characters on the show.
“Yolanda is a real young woman of her community and of her neighborhood,” Martin said. “She knows everyone in the area she lives in.”
Martin also described her character as a “bright energy” and “the life of the party.”
To prepare for the role, Martin studied the time period in which the show is set. She watched a lot of documentaries and news clips, read books about “Soul Train,” the musical variety show and studied the music and art of the 70s.
“I really wanted to learn not the Wikipedia facts, but what was prevalent to my characters life, lifestyle, community and neighborhood,” she said.
Martin said her character pushes her friends to follow their dreams, a trait she feels she shares.
“I think I can relate to that kind of drive especially with close friends if I know that they are dreaming about something,” Martin said.
“Just go out there and do it. The world is yours.”
Kelley Hey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grace Shallow contributed reporting.