Spotlight Interview with Writer Gregory G. Allen
One of the most talented writers on the scene today, Gregory G. Allen has penned novels for adults as well as stories for children. He's also actively involved in the theater. His work includes the short film "Mother," based on a book he wrote, for which he received national acclaim. After entertaining children's audiences with the book Chicken Boy, whose title character has autism, he has recently released a new book for kids calls Irving, The Theater Nut, which has resulted in glowing reviews and praise. Greg and I have known each other for some time and when I saw what a commotion Irving is causing, I couldn't stop myself from asking him for a few minutes to discuss his new book. As always, Greg was as welcoming and charming as ever.
CP: Hi, Greg. Welcome back. It’s been a while since we talked in a forum like this.
GG: It has and I really appreciate you talking to me again since I haven’t had a book out in a few years.
CP: You are, of course, most welcome. You’ve recently released a new children’s book, Irving, The Theatre Nut. Tell me about Irving.
GG: Irving is this squirrel who knows he should be gathering nuts (as that is what’s expected of him), but really wants to be a performer. He watches children rehearse in a nearby theater and he has a dream to join in on the fun that he sees them experiencing.
CP: Where did the idea for this book come from?
GG: I started a new job a few years ago as a theater manager in a historic theater in New York State and my second week, a squirrel got in the theater. I completely forgot that I had gone home, written an outline for a new children’s book and only discovered it earlier this year.
CP: What’s been the reaction to the book?
GG: It’s truly amazing because I was excited to return to my roots of children’s theater with this book and not certain how that would play with other people. There are more theater geeks/nuts in the world than I thought! People are loving the themes as well as Morgan Swofford’s beautiful illustrations.
CP: What message were you hoping to share with this story?
GG: I wanted to share that it’s okay to be different - if you want to go to play practice after school…Go! Just be you. Yet there are other smaller themes parents and teachers can discuss of working together, diversity (as it was important for me the children in the book not all look alike), and following a dream.
CP: You’ve always been heavily involved in the theater yourself. How much did that motivate this story?
GG: It was a huge motivation. I spent years doing children’s theater as a child. It’s how I got my start. I also got my Equity card (theater union) as an adult touring in a children’s theater show where we would do musical versions of well known children’s stories. I toured as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. And the past ten years I’ve returned to the stage once in a while to feed that passion. So yes…I’m a HUGE theater nut so I’m so happy to use that part of my life in this book.
CP: You’ve also been the director at one of your local theaters for a while now. How much do you enjoy this type of position?
GG: I think I’m one of those people that love all aspects of theater and the arts. I was the artistic director of a theater in New Jersey for several years, but even after I stepped away, I would still return and direct for them. There is a joy in working with a cast and crew to create a shared vision for the stage.
CP: What sorts of challenges does it present for you?
GG: The director sees the overall picture (which can be anxiety-producing) and steers everyone along on the same journey. You plan out the moments of your rehearsals, work with each designer so that you all have the same goal, and sometimes it can become nerve-wracking if things aren’t moving along at the time you feel it should be. That’s why I love to return to the other side, take on a role, and just worry about my own performance. :-)
CP: Do you feel that you’ve found your true calling or is there more you to accomplish?
GG: Honestly, I don’t know what my true calling is. It’s definitely to continue working in the arts and telling as many stories as possible…whatever medium that may be. I’m a storyteller at heart and that can be books, film, or stage.
CP: You recently were heavily involved with an independent film called “Mother” that received national acclaim. What would you like to share about that experience?
GG: It was absolutely amazing. From adapting a book of mine to a short 11-minute film. Bringing together a cast and crew that were all incredible and made our two-day shoot SO easy. To post production and working with an editor who brilliantly helped shape the vision to taking the film to festivals all of last year. Every moment of it was special in a different way.
CP: Is Irving possibly headed for a theater or film adaptation?
GG: It’s still so new that I’m not sure, but a few people have said to me that it needs to be a children’s play.
CP: Are you planning or working on another book at the present?
GG: Right now - no. You know how it is. It takes so much time to work on a project that sometimes I need to pull back and just…be. Right now, it’s all about talking about Irving and getting him to as many people as possible. We’ve already heard from regional theaters that want to carry the book in their gift shop and I’d love to do some events at actual children’s theater companies to talk about the book with children who are living it.
CP: What kinds of things have you been doing in your personal time lately?
GG: I still love to travel. this summer we took a family vacation on an Alaskan cruise for my mom’s 70th birthday. It was a great way to celebrate on the ship.
CP: Have you seen any movies that you can recommend? And if so, what makes the film stand out?
GG: The last movie I saw in a theater was Florence Foster Jenkins. I enjoyed it. I tend to watch most films at home now. (I’ve turned into that person.) Though I want to see The Girl on the Train as it was filmed up in the town where I live.
CP: What are you reading?
GG: Currently reading Seth Rudetsky’s The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek. (He wrote a great review for Irving and I just HAD to read his YA book about a teen theater-lover.)
CP: The election is really a boiling point across the country right now. Do you, as do most Americans, feel that this is the election that will set the stage for the USA’s journey forward in the 21st Century?
GG: I think every election cycle seems like a turning point for our country where we usually go back and forth from party to party. I think this year we had so many other things brought up with an independent like Bernie Sanders being such a large voice, and a Washington outsider like Donald Trump making such headway with people. It shows our country isn’t pleased and I HOPE that change will come, but we must remember that change for the sake of change isn’t always good. I don’t think our democracy should be thrown out the window. I think smart change needs to occur and Americans need to come together to make change: not divide in some sort of civil war. That actually worries me more than anything else. That this election has brought out the worst in people and I just hope there will be mending. (As a country and even among our own friends on social media and in our lives.)
CP: What would you say is your proudest achievement?
GG: Wow. That’s a hard one. I was always taught by my parents that I could do anything. I’m so proud they instilled that in me or else I would never have tried to do half of what I’ve done. Sometimes I fail, but that’s okay. I just keep trying something else new. (I know, I know - I didn’t answer your question because it’s like Sophie’s Choice and I can’t pick one.)
CP: Greg, thanks so much for visiting with me again.
GG: Thank you for talking with me again!