By Pat McAndrew, Editor-in-Chief, All About Solo
Jose Sonera is an actor and writer born and raised in the hell’s kitchen area of NYC. He is a theatre alumni from LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts, Lehman College (B.A.) and Brooklyn College (M.F.A.). He has appeared on NBC’s Law & Order, SiTV’s Unacceptable Behavior and has toured with the National Theatre of the Performing Arts in “Don Quixote de la Mancha” and Dandelion’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” All About Solo caught up with Sonera to talk about his successful one‑man show, “PRINZE.” His solo play is based on the life of late comedic idol Freddie Prinze, Sr. It has been Sonera’s lifelong goal to finally tell the story of this forgotten iconic legend responsible for paving the way for so many Latinos in Hollywood. “PRINZE” will be featured in the upcoming ALL ARTS broadcast.
Pat McAndrew: How did you discover theater and, more specifically, solo performance?
Jose Sonera: I discovered theater very early in my life. Going to LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts sealed the deal for me, because that’s when I started getting real theater training. That’s where I did my first play, and I have been in love with theater ever since. To me, theater is literally life. It’s my way to express myself and, in many ways, it’s therapeutic. My solo performance was born out of a deep desire to share this story. Artistically, it’s the perfect vehicle to tell the story exactly how I want to tell it. Financially, it’s perfect because as a writer, I’m the only actor I have to worry about. I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with my friend and director Melissa Linton, who has been my eyes when I am on stage.
Sounds like you have a long history of being inspired by theater. So what inspired you to create this specific piece?
Freddie Prinze, Sr. was a comedic icon in the 1970s. He paved the way for many Latino entertainers. He was a pioneer and, sadly enough, I had no idea who he was throughout my youth. Once I discovered him I was unable to let him go. He literally changed my life and became an extended member of the family. We share so many things in common, including our Puerto Rican background. We were both born and raised in NYC by a loving Latin Mama. We both went to the same high school and used comedy as an escape. Freddie spoke about our experiences and, for the first time, made them universally relatable. He made us relevant in a world that subjugates and stereotypes us. In short Freddie became my hero, and a bond was formed that I would never be able to break. What could I ever do to thank him, to pay tribute to him? George Lopez got him his star, so I would attempt to share his story in a way no one else has ever seen. I would remind the older generation and educate the new one about who Freddie was and what he did for us.
Why is “PRINZE” important for today’s audience?
In this current political climate, where our country is divided and immigration is constantly in the news, this untold Hollywood story about a comedy icon from immigrant parents who had to overcome racism, discrimination and poverty to achieve the American dream couldn’t be timelier.
It is vitally important to have stories like this being told, so thank you! What would you say is your favorite part of the show?
Two things happen that are very satisfying. I have folks who remember Freddie from their youth, and they come up to me after the show to express how much they loved him. They reminisce about seeing him on TV for the first time, and what it meant for them. Then I get younger folks approaching me to say, “I had no idea.” They look him up and discover Freddie for the first time. That’s my favorite part, when folks tell me they saw Freddie again on stage. It makes me feel like I’m doing my job.
What were some challenges that you faced in developing this piece?
Researching and gathering as much information on Freddie as possible has been my labor of love. It’s challenging to try to share his life in less than two hours on stage. Throughout this process, I’ve had to edit and rework the play, to keep it under a certain running time, so I’ve had to make strong choices about what stays in the story. Originally the play was almost two and a half hours long, but that doesn’t work for a solo show. Hopefully my love for Freddie has allowed me to convey his story in an honest way, in which the audience gets a glimpse into this special soul.
It is apparent that Freddie’s story has spoken to you. How does “PRINZE” speak to other work you have done?
As an actor, I’m drawn to roles that speak to me. I always ask myself, “what can I bring to this character?” With Freddie, I feel a very strong connection to the point where I literally feel like he’s a family member. I strive for work that offers an insight about humanity, that reveals the human condition. I don’t know how to fully explain it, except to say that I felt a responsibility to tell his story. This wasn’t an overnight decision. I’ve had Freddie in my heart for many years. After struggling with doubts and insecurities, I have arrived to this play today, and I’m so glad I followed through. Oftentimes our stories are not told, and when they are, we’re not the ones telling them. All I will say is that representation matters, and it is my pleasure to be doing it.
What do you hope the audience walks away with after seeing your show?
I hope folks leave the theatre remembering what an amazing talent Freddie was, and what a big heart he had. I want the younger generation to discover him in the same way I did, and to understand his contribution to our people in this business. Freddie made a path when there really wasn’t one. He made me believe it was possible to dream of the impossible. But also, it is a cautionary tale of depression and substance abuse. If anyone who sees this finds themselves under similar predicaments or struggles, it is important for them to know that they don’t have to suffer alone. Hopefully his story will serve as a reminder of the consequences if you don’t seek the help you need.
“PRINZE the one man show”
Written and Performed by Jose Sonera
Director: Melissa Linton
Costume Designer: Lisa Montalvo
Photo: courtesy of the production
Coming soon: “PRINZE” will be featured in the upcoming ALL ARTS broadcast.
Author: Pat McAndrew, Editor-in-Chief, All About Solo
Pat McAndrew is a NYC-based actor, writer, and consultant. As an actor, he has performed Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, and in various locations throughout New York City, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. His one-man show, REEL, was performed in the 2017 United Solo Theatre Festival and featured in the new documentary, Electronic Crack. Using his background as an actor as his foundation, Pat consults with individuals and organizations on how to communicate effectively and build deep, meaningful relationships in the digital age. He is the Founder of The Low Tech Trek, an organization devoted to discovering a better balance between human interaction and how we use technology. He is a member of Village Playback Theatre, Endless River Arts, and Svaha Theatre Collective. Pat holds an MA in Theatre from Villanova University. Check out patmcandrew.com for more information.