Interview: Peter Kalos, Director at Lab Theatre and teacher at Melbourne Actor’s Lab

From the director’s chair

A collection of interviews with Aussie directors 

With Max Davine

Walking into the Melbourne Actor’s Lab feels like coming home. It doesn’t look anything like it used to; for one thing, it’s an entirely different venue. But there’s an energy that hangs around the place. The spectral presence of a thousand characters, worked on, fleshed out, and embodied with blood, sweat and tears. The looming feeling of what is required of an actor when they step through those doors, whichever doors the Lab has; that is, their absolute focus, their complete commitment, the abandonment of their ego and the resurgence of their sensory memories. This is a place where you go to create a symphony with your body, where you explore every dark recess of your heart and mind, and where you will, eventually, find yourself split open, stripped of all pretenses and slowly rotated in front of an audience. You sometimes learn things you didn’t know about yourself. But the work your create, the incredible rush to end a performance and know that it was as true and honest as if you were really there, is what you’re chasing. The day it clicks, and you know you’ve got it, is a day you never forget.

Behind all this is an unassuming man with an American accent and a deeply welcoming and generous personality. Not the wild eccentric, invasive one normally envisions of an acting teacher, and there’s plenty of them. Peter Kalos is really just a guy, and while his story is extraordinary, he shrugs it off as though it was, and is, a means to an end. “That’s the work,” he says, watching his students fall apart on stage. “That’s why actors get paid the big dollars. They earn it.”

I first came to Melbourne Actor’s Lab at age twenty. The school had just opened a little while before, and Peter sent me an invitation to come by and check it out. I knew of him, that he was a Melbourne boy who took off to LA to chase a dream, and found himself under the tutelage of none other than Stella Adler herself, and quickly earned himself a place amongst Hollywood’s elites, albeit as a script doctor for Paramount Pictures, instead of an actor. We’d all seen the photos of him with Robert de Niro, Sophia Loren, Mark Wahlberg, Dudley Moore, Eli Wallach…you name it, basically. I probably should have had a better idea of what I was in for. When the work started, I knew this was different. This was the real thing. I went through the usual trial period of wandering if I was losing my mind, if this was normal, and then, the glorious day, while working on a scene from Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story”, when it finally clicked. With Peter Kalos’ voice in my head, I appeared in over sixty short films, five features, towards ten plays, I won awards, I stopped auditioning and started having parts written specifically for me…the day even came when I’d work on set with Robert de Niro, and Peter came along to visit his old friend. It’s all true; if it happened in Hollywood, Peter was either there, or knows someone who was. For three years, I left my tears, shards of my spirit, and on a few occasions my blood (though not everyone takes it that far, nor should they) on the floor of the Actor’s Lab. Acting was not for me. I am an author, sometimes a script writer. But ever since the school packed up and moved to Brunswick from that old place in St. Kilda, the energy remains. I feel pieces of myself, haunting spaces I left them for all to see.

“That’s the work.”

So, how did it happen? How did this school of about seven students in a little space in St. Kilda develop a reputation such as the Melbourne Actor’s Lab? How did a few bohemians flourish into classes of Logie nominees, packed out with people just come to watch what these incredible actors do?

“I was in LA,” Peter explains, of our luck. “And a project fell through, and I thought, I’m done with this. I’m done with LA. But I had to do something, so I stuck with what I know. I decided to teach what I know.”

Why Melbourne?

“I’m from Melbourne, originally,” he tells. “But I love the place. It’s like a young New York, it really is. There’s so much potential here.”

The Actor’s Lab started their own theatre this year, with Peter Kalos as the director. So far they have staged four plays, and are moving from their little venue, next year, to the Alex Theatre, back in St. Kilda. It will allow them to expand on their shows and bring us works which are new and exciting.

“We had amazing scenes going on,” Peter says. “And people had to see them. We were talking about it for years, but we realized nobody’s going to help us. Nobody’s going to finance anything…so we knew he had to do it ourselves.”

Rajiv Joseph’s “The North Pool” is currently playing at the Lab.

“We have pretty simple criteria; does it fit on our stage, is it well written, and can we do it without a budget. The North Pool was ready to go, it was available, that’s pretty much it.”

That’s pretty much it. Go see the play.

Written by Max Davine

Pictured: Max Davine interviews Peter Kalos

More info on The Actors Lab

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