When considering identity, I was curious to know how Peter Kalos identifies himself? As a Greek Australian, he left Australia for the bright lights of the US to follow his acting dream. Now 22 years later, he’s back in Melbourne. A man with an American twang to his accent, a dedicated family man, a man whose spent his formative years in another country and a man who wears many hats in his industry – writer, director, actor and teacher – I wondered, who is Peter Kalos?
“If I had to pick one, I am more of a writer,” says Peter, “definitely the writing is where my heart lives.”
But for the play Angels in America Peter is wearing the director’s hat once again.
Written by Tony Kushner, the play was written in America in the ’80s when the fear of AIDs and the ignorance towards the disease was rife. It follows a homosexual couple: one with AIDs and one who can’t cope with his partner’s disease. So he abandons him in his greatest time of need. Counteracting that is another couple – a married couple. The husband is a gay man who hasn’t told his wife, but through the duration of the play, he comes out. He had feared wearing the label of a gay man in America, but finds the courage to do so. The play centres around how people identify themselves, how other’s identify them and the labels we place on each. Straight, gay; sick or healthy; do we hide who we are, or are we open with our identity?
The play opens with a rabbi who talks about how a person in the Jewish community has changed their name to make them more American but follows up by saying at the end of the day, it’s where your ancestors are from and your background that identifies you, not your name, and you can’t escape that. Peter draws the parallel to the Greek community.
“It really does come down to identity and what we hide and don’t hide,” the director begins to explain.
“It was interesting coming back from LA because when I left there were all these Greeks my age or younger, and we would study or do the jobs a lot of our parents would expect us to do so it was refreshing when I came back here to see Greek Australian’s that had branched into positions that 20 years ago they wouldn’t think of going.”
He remembers when he first started in the acting business that although his parents were supportive, they “still didn’t get it”.
For 22 years, Peter has been in America, living and breathing acting. He studied at the acclaimed Stella Adler Theatre for four years and his contemporaries include Hollywood heavyweights like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Christopher Walkin. By being constantly exposed to this calibre of talent, Peter has brought back his knowledge and vision to Australia. He is giving the Australian actors all his technical experience and knowledge.
“Because I have seen some amazing actors in LA and I’ve worked with some amazing actors, you know what good acting looks like,” he explains.
As a director, Peter is able to give the actors the tool for them to deliver the best performance and version of the play.
“You have to have a vision,” says Peter of being a director, “and if you don’t you are in trouble because no one else does as you’re not inspiring them and you’re not showing them the bigger picture.”
But for now, Peter is happy to be back in Melbourne in a city that has grown up as he has. And with his loving family by his side, Peter is able to explore every aspect of his identity, his kids too.
“Two were born in America and one was born here and there’s already a difference between them and they look at the little one and say you were born in Clayton and we were born in Beverly Hills,” he says with a smile in his voice.
Angels in America will run until 1 September at Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran. For more information visit www.angelsinamerican.com.au