When Identity Doesn’t Fit Narrative, an Interview With Juha Sorola

Interviews, Lead Article

By Pat McAndrew, Editor-in-Chief, All About Solo
Juha Sorola was born in Finland, and trained at the Method Studio in London, UK. He now splits his time between London and New York City. On the stage, he has performed in “Murder On The Orient Express” (McCarter Theatre and Hartford Stage) and his self-penned solo show “About Heroes”(United Solo Best Festival Debut 2016). Stage appearances in London include “About Heroes,” “The Decay of Lying,” “In the Beginning Was the End,” “Pariah,” “Electra,” “The Maids,” “True West,” “Doctor Faustus,” “The Matchmaker,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “Twelfth Night,”  and “As You Like It.” Juha has also appeared in several films. All About Solo caught up with Juha to hear about his story as a gay man in a small town in Finland and how his experiences related to that of his grandfather’s.

Pat McAndrew: How did you end up discovering theater and, more specifically, solo performance?
Juha Sorola: I used to work as a hair stylist at the Helsinki City Theatre in Finland, where I was born, and that reawakened my passion for performing – a passion I’d had from as long as I can remember. Initially, though, doing solo theatre was in fact not on my list at all.

What a great way to be exposed to the theatre scene! So if solo theatre was not on your list, what inspired you to create “About Heroes”?
At some point, I already felt I might have a thing or two to say about growing up as a gay guy in a small town in Finland, without any obvious role-models, feeling like an outsider. It was only when I found out about my maternal grandfather, an outsider for different reasons and someone I never knew, that I realized that I might actually have a show.

How is “About Heroes” important for today’s audience?
It’s about identity and how we’re conditioned to repeat patterns to support certain narratives about our family history, and, on a larger scale, the history and ideals of the country you’re born into. It’s about what happens when you instinctively know that what you represent as an individual does not fit the constraints of that narrative. These are not only perennial dilemmas, but, in the viciously polarized climate of today’s world, they’re even more pertinent.

It is definitely a piece that is needed today. What would you say is your favorite part about this show?
The favorite and the worst part is that first moment before I enter! You’ve got all these things to say, and all you can do is to just trust that, and trust your audience. Once you find that place of trust, you’re flying.

There is certainly that trust that’s needed between audience and performer! What were some challenges that you faced in developing “About Heroes”?
Writing in English about experiences that are essentially very Finnish, and illuminating the historical context of the story without making it sound like a history lesson were possibly the most challenging aspects. How to get your points across economically, trimming out unnecessary, fussy detail, and really breathing dramatic life into it took an awful lot of time, but was also incredibly rewarding. The final challenge is knowing when to take off your writer’s hat and concentrate on being the performer!

How does “About Heroes” speak to other work you have done?
You’re always revealing aspects of yourself to an audience, whether it is as yourself or through a character. It’s always very intimate. Doing this has also reminded me of the huge responsibility a performer always has to  the words we’re saying, no matter whose words they are or whether we think it’s well written or not. The audience is not interested in the performer’s personal opinion about the piece, and nor should they be: they’ve come to hear a story.

With that said, what do you hope the audience walks away with after seeing this piece?
I hope audiences of all ages find something affirming about the journey I share with them, across cultural, social or gender divides. Even if it may have made them angry, sad or baffled along the way, it’s all good!

About Heroes
Written and Performed by Juha Sorola
Photo credit: Carl Proctor
United Solo 2018
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City

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.

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