Joe Hernandez-Kolski is an actor and writer known for live performances that are uncompromisingly direct and insightful and filled with music, dance, spoken word and comedy to tell very personal stories. He makes you want to jump onstage with him. But don't do it. He's a professional. I recently got to interview him about his upcoming solo performance show called "Awake."
Fanny Garcia (FG): What projects have you been working on since your last performance show, "You Wanna Piece of Me?"
Joe Hernandez-Kolski (JHK): "You Wanna Piece of Me?" premiered in 2004. That show led to me hosting and co-writing Si TV's "Not So Foreign Filmmakers Showcase" which ran for two seasons. Then I started touring my college show, "Refried Latino Pride." Then I had my short film "Afterschool'd" about an afterschool hip-hop program gone wrong. That was an NBC Comedy Short Cuts Finalist. After that, I co-wrote/co-performed with beatboxer/comedian Joshua Silverstein as the comedy/poetry duo, SO FRESH & SO CLEAN. Now I'm back with a brand new solo show "AWAKE."
FG: What is your new piece about?
JHK: This is the deepest piece that I've ever developed. My director, Benjamin Byron Davis, and I have been working feverishly to talk about the realities of life and finding the humor in the tragedies that we all inevitably face. The question that I believe we all deal with on a daily basis is, "Man, this is tough. How do I keep moving forward?" My mother passed away a year and a half ago. This show tells the story of me processing that major change in my life. And it's hilarious!
FG: Was this a difficult piece to write compared to your other works?
JHK: Very much so. It's scary to put your entire life under a huge microscope. Everything is shown, my flaws, my insecurities, my anger at my dirty laundry cuz it keeps multiplying in my closet.
FG: Are you ever afraid or concerned about revealing too much of yourself and your life in your solo performances?
JHK: Yes, particularly with this show, however, those intimate truths are usually what provide the most laughter and insight into life.
FG: When you write, do you ever think about what kind of experience you want your audience to have when they see your show?
JHK: My goal is to connect everyone in that room and create an energy that reminds us that we're all in this together. But my director gets on my case because sometimes I have the audience in mind as I write and that can get in the way of what I'm trying to say. I start doubting that people are interested in my stories. The word "self-indulgent" scares the crap out of me. That's why I have a director to keep me on track.
FG: For an actor, how is a solo performance show more challenging than performing in a play with a cast?
JHK: Relationship. It's such a crucial piece to theater and, in this case, the relationship occurs between me and the audience. And I make eye contact with audience members. That can be intimidating at times. The writing process is difficult at times too because it's important to SHOW and not TELL. I like to have the experience occur right in front of the audience; however, it's difficult to recreate moments when it's just me and the stage. Our goal with this show is to strip away. No video, no other cast members, just me revealing.
FG: Who should come see your show and why?
JHK: People who have doubts and keep getting back up. I believe everyone can identify with pieces of this show, however, I definitely think people in their late-thirties, early forties will identify the strongest, particularly mixed-Latinos like myself.
FG: East LA Rep is currently conducting a solo performance intensive with playwright Luis Alfaro with sixteen talented and eager theatre artists. What advice do you have for them about writing and performing a solo performance piece?
JHK: Luis and I just had breakfast the other day and I totally agree with him ÔÇô do NOT try to say everything with this one show. There will be plenty more shows. And let the writer go and trust the performer. Personally, I've started referring to myself as separate people. I'm very aware that "Writer Joe" needs to let go and allow "Performer Joe" to take over. TRUST. That's the most crucial element of writing.