Emerging Playwright-winner Greg Kalleres is the writer behind the NY Times Critic's Pick "Honky". His one-act plays have won honors at the Samuel French Festival, Turnip Festival, and Fusion Theatre One Act Play Festival. This comedic writer has also written and produced commercials, and his work has been published in the New York Times, TDF Stages Magazine, cracked.com, and United Stages "Best of EATFest" Volumes 3 and 4.
StageBuddy recently had an opportunity to chat with the busy playwright to discuss the current remounting of "Honky" at Urban Stages, commercialism, and his process as a writer.
StageBuddy: "Honky" as a twitter post...
Greg Kalleres: It's a comedy about race, advertising, white guilt, and basketball shoes.
What can a commercial do that a play can't?
A number of things. One, it can reach millions of people at once. It can be seen over and over again. It can be seen online. It can be sent. Tweeted and posted, emailed. Sometimes there are production values that are out of this world. Personally, it actually pays the salary so I can buy pants. There are a lot of things a commercial can do that a play can't. Although there are so many things a play can do that a commercial can't that are beyond just the time limit of it, obviously.
What was your inspiration for the play?
I used to work in advertising. I worked as a copywriter for brands Jordan, Nike, and ESPN, and I still freelance. I used to find myself in these conversations in these big meetings with lots of white people discussing nonwhite demographics, and I was always struck by how difficult it was for people whose job it was to influence a certain demographic, but at the same time have no comfort discussing them outside the boardroom rhetoric. I ran into so many comical and revealing awkward conversations with people that, as a playwright, I found that interesting. I thought the words people would use to avoid certain things and the words people would accidentally use, [what they] could say or couldn't say. As a playwright, that was fun: I could write a play where language was actually the antagonist. That's the case in "Honky". It's a play about race and advertising through the lens of basketball sneakers, but every character deals with language in some form or another and has to navigate the rhetoric in order to survive.
What would really happen if the pill 'Driscotol' [a fictional pill that cures racism] actually showed up on the market?
If it showed up on the market, I think at first people would probably think it was a joke and eventually you might have people sending it to their friends as Christmas gifts.
What was your experience like working with Luke Harlan?
He is a fantastic director. He's very inclusive. Very easy to work with. The two of us really got along really well and he understood the play very quickly. Our communication was always very unburdened and easy. He is a good listener and adept at interpreting concerns that I had; he's really good with actors and has a great sense of the project as a whole. Talking with him about the play were some of my favorite moments about the production. He's a really smart guy and very talented.
What was the casting experience like for you?
It's always very helpful for the play. You get to hear many voices saying the same lines over and over again, it opens things up, it's the beginning of making sure you have the right tone. So the actors in the audition are doing a lot of free work for you because they're basically helping you hear a range of interpretations. So for me it's always really helpful to do that, being involved in the audition process.
Did "Honky" go through any changes from the original to this remount?
It went through a few. I edited some stuff. I cut some lines here and there. Shaved some scenes. Tightened things. We flipped a scene in the order of the play. But the biggest change I think that happened in this remount was more for the actors. I think that they found some stuff that they felt like they didn't get to explore last time for whatever reason. During this remount the actors really wanted to delve in and try something newer and enrich their characters.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Ever since I was a kid I've always been writing. My brother and I when we were kids, he's older, we would write these hour and a half feature-length movies and we'd direct and act in them and cast our family members to play various roles, we did that at a pretty early age. I think I was like 7 or 8 when we started doing that. We ended up with three of those movies. And I was always writing little plays and short stories as a kid. I was telling somebody [who] asked me, "When did I know I wanted to become a writer?" that I think [it was] when I realized that I would be a horrible actor. When I was younger I would say 'I want to be an actor, I want to be in the theater,' and realized very early on as a kid that, yeah, I'm horrible at this. That definitely streamlined things for me.
Who are some of your personal influences?
Growing up my dad set us up with a steady stream of Woody Allen, so it was a lot of self-loathing, misguided feelings of being wronged. It was probably a lot of strange, undeserved guilt going on. I was always a fan of Woody Allen, comedies in the 70s and stuff like that. Marx brothers, too. My influence was always probably comedy, but I was always a big fan later of Edward Albee and David Mamet.
Any advice for the aspiring writer?
It's best when you write something that scares you. When you write something that you're not sure you should write or not, but you feel like you have to. You take risks with the material. That often breathes some of the most interesting work and also makes you grow as a writer.
What's next on your line-up?
I just finished a new play called "Apropos of Nothing". It's a comedy, kind of a post-modern comedy of manners about love, irony, and cliché. I am working on a TV project and potentially another screenplay. Trying to stay busy. Every now and then I freelance when I need pants or something.
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)
Performances of "Honky" continue through November 16th. For more information, check out our full event listing here: https://stagebuddy.com/listingdetail.php?lid=14648