Category Archives: INTERVIEW


Kevin, actor etc.

Kevin’s support system

“Never have a backup because anything is easier than acting.”

Kevin Kolack started his voiceover career as a nine-year-old. His “Teddy Tapes” featured stuffed animals gossiping about soccer practice and about who liked whom in grade school. “I had no idea that I would be allowed to do this as a job,” Kevin said as we sat down to talk in his Celtic Park apartment. “I think it’s pretty hilarious that I get paid to make funny sounds.”Before Kevin got paid to make funny sounds, he was a taxi driver, a college professor, a firefighter, an Olympic-level marksman, a soccer coach, a puppeteer, a swimming instructor, a florist and a magician. He has a PhD in Chemistry, a scuba diving certificate, a helicopter license, and is as adept in  white water rafting as he is in skydiving, fire-eating and archery.

Kevin is currently fully committed to his acting and voiceover career, and his special skills have landed him roles as paramedics in the TV series Law and Order and White Collar. (Just recently he cast himself in the role of Professor K, the main character in a science TV show for children he created.)

Kevin advices to “Never have a back-up, because anything is easier than acting.” Each week he does multiple voiceover auditions, which he records behind a soundproofing egg crate partition in his apartment. The self-marketing an acting career requires is very time-consuming, and rejections are not uncommon. Things are further complicated by “the never-ending supply of people trying [to be actors], getting to auditions late and getting the casting director pissed off,” he said. “Everyone wants to be a star, so why not try it. [But] you have a much better chance to become a working actor if you’ve had a life and have some experience that you can bring to your role.”

I forgot to ask Kevin which of his skills he relied on the most in his role as a turtle in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure commercial. I can only assume it was not fire-eating, but you never know when that might come in handy. Thankfully, I caught him on tape as he did the voice of a pile of puke.

Oh, and I should mention: Kevin is the husband of Diane Kolack.

Listen to Kevin’s interview


Diane getting ready to turn an old pumpkin into soup. (It was asking for it.)

Diane’s dog Queso Blanco prefers kale and duck hotdog over pumpkin, even though I told her that the soup is going to keep her warm.

“It’s liberating to open up your choices to eating what grew on the farm this week.”

This week Diane Kolack’s “box” contained one and a half pounds of string beans. While string beans are not her favorite vegetable, they embody a Weltanschauung that is dear to her heart and stomach.

“Definitely it could be a burden,” Diane said as we sat in her Celtic Park co-op enveloped by the smell of baked squash and fresh applesauce. “But it could also be exciting and fun. It’s liberating to open up your choices to eating what grew on the farm this week.”

As the founder of Sunnyside Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Diane knows where her string beans came from. Picked just a couple of days ago at the Golden Earthworm Organic Farm on Long Island, they were packed in individual boxes along with potatoes, squash and other vegetables in season and shuttled less than 80 miles West to Sunnyside Community Services. On Thursday between 5 and 8 PM, they were picked up by 150 “shareholders” ready (or not) for their bounty. The shareholders had signed up with the farm at the beginning of the season and paid $540 for 26 weeks of vegetables, or 26 boxes, each feeding a household of four.

Diane thinks that knowing the genesis of her string beans makes it harder to dislike them. “It also makes your cooking better,” she said, pointing out the delicious string bean salad she made last night. A student of sustainable food studies at CUNY, Diane went on to criticize the American obsession with choice. “It’s like ‘I want to eat this condiment with this food at this time and if I don’t get it, I’m very unsatisfied.’ ”

(Diane is married to Kevin Kolack.)

Listen to Diane’s interview


Blogger Christian Murray of the Sunnyside Post

After Christian reported about pigeon dirt on newspaper boxes, Jimmy Van Bramer was quick to have the feces removed.

“This is my neighborhood. I want to know what’s going on. Everyone needs to know what’s going on.”

Each day Christian Murray takes his two Boston Terriers on a long walk through Sunnyside. He carries a camera and a notebook to  gather material for his website, the Sunnyside Post. Christian misses no community board or police precinct meeting. Whether residents complain about the size of their Christmas tree, Sunnyside hosts a Pumpkin Day or troublemaker Casa Romana incenses the community with a Wet-T-Shirt and Oil-Wrestling Party, Christian reports, follows up and often sets an example for local community leaders. (A couple of days after Christian reported on the planned event, Jimmy Van Bramer announced the event thwarted.)

“This is my neighborhood. This is where I live. I want to know what’s going on. Everyone needs to know what’s going on,” Christian says matter-of-factly as we sit down to talk. A financial reporter for Thompson Reuters by day and a blogger during late night and lunch break hours, the native New Zealander started the Sunnyside Post two years ago. He updates the blog at least ten times a week, with roughly half of all postings gleaned from local newspapers and the other half featuring original reporting.

“I sometimes spend two or three hours a day [on the blog],” he says. “My wife thinks I am crazy.” But his website provides him pleasure, and the human interest issues offer a good balance to his “dry and abstract” nine-to-five job.

A few months ago the Sunnyside Post began posting ads from local businesses and institutions, including Camp Bow Wow, the Sunnyside Reformed Church and Santa Fe Steak House, and most recently it was revamped to better reflect Christian’s main focus, “Keeping the vitality of our main streets going.” The Sunnyside Post now also collects suggestions on how to improve business on Queens Boulevard.

In the podcast, Christian talks about a large fire on 42nd Street that other news outlets failed to report and about his blogging obsession.

Listen to Christian’s interview


Rabbi Lerman in front of a fabric painting by Betty Ann Weiner

The synagogue has been housed in the basement of an apartment building at the corner of 43rd Avenue and 46th Street after the old synagogue was demolished in 2005.

Young Israel’s three Torahs, with the newest one on the right

The Yizkor candles are lit several times a year to commemorate the six million Jews that were killed in the Holocaust.

“As Jews we have something unique to contribute to this diversity.”

As I arrived at the Young Israel synagogue one recent rainy Tuesday morning, Rabbi Nesanal Lerman was bending over the brand-new Torah scroll, making sure that none of its assiduously hand-written letters were overlapping and thereby implying new meanings. The 37-year-old rabbi experienced a hectic start after being installed only three months ago in Sunnyside’s small orthodox Jewish community, which had been without a rabbi for several years.

“It’s been a little bit erratic up until now,” Rabbi Lerman admits as we sat in the basement of the apartment building that houses The Young Israel synagogue. A month ago the community celebrated the dedication of a new Torah with a joyful procession down 47th Street, Skillman Avenue and up 46th Street. This was followed by Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. In addition to all the professional duties that come with holiday celebrations, the rabbi and his wife Nechama care for two young children and a little baby girl who was born only two months ago. But enthusiastic and ambitious by nature, Lerman appears to thrive on challenges. He now plans to renovate the synagogue, which he proudly notes is the only one offering daily services in all of Western Queens. He also wants to create a Jewish daycare center for those congregants who wish to expose their children to a Jewish learning environment.

Raised in the orthodox community of Borrough Park, Brooklyn, Lerman lived in Jerusalem for the past eleven years, where he studied and helped establish a Jewish structure for its Anglo-Saxon population. He hopes that Sunnyside’s 20 observant orthodox Jewish member families will benefit from his intense and focused religious experience in Israel and that his presence will enrich the community as a whole.

“We were looking for a place where there is a diversity of culture and where we can contribute,” Rabbi Lerman says about Sunnyside. “As Jews we have something unique to contribute to this diversity.”

While he is still trying to read the map of his new territory—he considers finding out people’s needs and reaching out to fulfill them among his most important tasks—he relies on his two main philosophies, learning and believing. “The Torah says man’s created in the Godly image. There is so much that people can accomplish if they only believe. Every person has to look at himself as a deep text that they have to learn.”

Listen to Rabbi Lerman’s interview


Isabel giving Emma, whom she rescued in Spain seven years ago, a belly rub

“Leaving the neighborhood was a measure of success and it was really difficult for me to accept that I had to come back.”

Isabel Cuervo has lived in Sunnyside since she was six, but had to travel halfway around the world before she could appreciate the neighborhood. Growing up as the daughter of a Colombian single mother in a one-bedroom apartment wasn’t easy. Isabel was not allowed to play on the street or walk to school by herself because her mother was “overprotective.” She often dreamed of owning one of the “pretty, little houses” beyond Skillman Avenue, the virtual border that still largely separates the working class from the middle class.

After high school, Isabel began studying different architects’ approaches to low-income housing at Barnard College and later enrolled in a Master’s program for environmental psychology in Spain.

“I always wanted to travel the world,” the 35-year-old says. But Spain wasn’t what she had hoped, and Isabel returned to Sunnyside, broke and pained. “I felt like my life wasn’t progressing,” she says. “Leaving the neighborhood was a measure of success and it was really difficult for me to accept that I had to come back.”

In 2003 Isabel began her PhD studies in environmental psychology at the CUNY Graduate Center, which slowly changed her feelings towards Sunnyside. Isabel now appreciates the neighborhood’s small town feel, its accessibility and diversity. “It’s not in the middle of all that chaos that can be New York City.”

Isabel’s doctoral thesis combines her two main interests, traveling and low-income housing. She recently spent three months in Bogotá, Colombia, interviewing key stakeholders of low-income housing, including residents, developers and representatives of city agencies. She hopes her research will contribute to a better understanding between these divided parties and improve the living conditions of working class families.

As to Sunnyside, Isabel has found a good reason to return: One year ago she fell in love with a man who grew up on the same block as she. Her new boyfriend is the son of Turkish immigrants and was one of the children she envied because he was allowed to play on the street. “Sometimes I feel like in ‘The Godfather,’ ” Isabel says laughing. “The main character wants to leave the mob but he is always being pulled back in. This is the story of my life with this neighborhood.”

Listen to Isabel’s interview