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Luft Gangster

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Lowell Byers
July 25, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Playwright, Actor.

What is your show about?
Luft Gangster is based on the story of my relative, Louis Fowler, who spent 13 hellish months in a prisoner of war camp (Stalag Luft VI) during World War II.

What type of theater do you like most to work on?
I love to work on period theatre and pieces based on real events. After hearing about my cousin, Louis Fowler, and his incredible World War II story, I felt I had to travel down to Columbia, South Carolina and interview him. 3 years later, I finally made my play.

Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
I love that theatre is always happening live, right in front of our eyes. Even though it has been rehearsed, it is always living and anything can happen. I think this play will be very moving for audiences to see every night since it is all based on a true event.

Is there a particular moment in this show that you really love or look forward to? Without giving away surprises, what happens in that moment and why does it jazz you?
My cousin was interrogated by the Gestapo for ten days. This was the first scene I wrote. My father, Ralph Byers, who is also an actor (Big River, Revival of Music Man) will be interrogating me as the Gestapo Colonel. This scene is probably my favorite because the tension is so naturally high. My cousin told me that he never told the Gestapo anything they wanted to hear - just gave name, rank, and serial number. As you can imagine, this only increases the tension.

Which famous person would you most like to get a fan letter from: Denzel Washington, Maggie Smith, Ang Lee, Audra McDonald?
As an actor, I would love to get a letter from Daniel Day Lewis. He has such a natural versatility to the characters he takes on. As a playwright, Tracey Letts. August Osage County was so fascinating. Taking such a simple scene idea, like a family dinner, and making it so captivating to watch, was a great thrill. And of course, having Austin Pendleton be involved in my piece has been a real treat. He has such terrific insight on what makes good theatre.

Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
Even though this play is about Lou and his journey, the play is really about all the men who didn't make it out of the prison camp. So many lives were lost during World War II in combat, prison camps and death camps. This play is about the men on both the American and the Nazi side who were really just trying to make it back home.