Stadium Lights to Stage Lights: Conversation with Lowell Byers

PHOTOS COURTESY LOWELL BYERS

When Lowell Byers was a junior in high school, he was playing on New York’s #2 ranked high school football team as a starting defensive end. In his second game of the season, he sustained an injury that took him off the team for the rest of the season. Swapping stadium lights for stage lights, Byers took to an acting class at school in place of the football team. “I signed up for the acting class in school and was rather surprised when this new class became a therapeutic exercise for the frustration I was currently dealing with,” he explained. From there, the acting bug bit him. “I then continued being a part of the high school productions,” said Byers. Currently, he is starring as the “Bada Book, Bada Boom” character in commercials for Choice Hotels.

Although he was new to taking on characters, Byers was no stranger to the idea of acting. His father, Ralph Byers, and his papou, Athan Karras have strong roots embedded in the theatrical world. Karras starred in the film Dark Odyssey (1961) and had many television credits to his name. He was also a pioneer and leading authority, establishing and cultivating the Greek Folk Dancing culture that is so prevalent in America today. An established choreographer, director and dancer, Karras also co-founded The Intersection Folk Dance Center in Los Angeles and wrote Did You Say Dance? for The Hellenic Journal for nearly a decade. As for Byers’ father Ralph, he has worked in television since the ‘70s (Madam Secretary; Law and Order: The Special Victims Unit; The Good Wife; House of Cards) and on Broadway (Big River; The Music Man; Goodbye Fidel)  and Off-Broadway (Money Talks; Promises, Promises). Father and son also worked together earlier this year in Lowell’s original play, Luft Gangster, which was directed by Tony Award winning director Austin Pendleton.

Lowell Byers’ original play Luft Gangster this past Spring played at The Sheen Center in NYC which featured father and son. Pictured: Ralph Byers, left, Lowell Byers (second from right).
PHOTOS COURTESY LOWELL BYERS

His awareness of acting started early. Byers details: “My curiosity for acting was sparked at a young age, as I was part of a family of actors. I remembered seeing my father in commercials on TV when I was young. It was exciting, and yet, somewhat confusing at the same time. I was under the impression that a person who worked carried a briefcase and worked in an office, and I didn’t understand how being on TV fit into that. When I first saw my father perform on stage when I was ten, that idea of being a performer became much clearer.”

Moving from high school to college, Byers continued performing. He received his BA in Theater from Denison University and his MFA in Dramatic Arts from Old Globe/USD. Having the many theories and practices under his belt, he has found his niche in how he approaches the text and performance of the material he works with. “First and foremost, I admire a good story, and an actor’s ability to tell that good story through their work,” he stated. “As far as dramatic literature is concerned, I have a tremendous respect for the writing of Shakespeare, after studying it in grad school. I think he was, first, able to craft an engaging story, and then, tell that story, while using all the poetry and breadth the English language allows.”

When it comes to performing, Byers defines listening as a key skill to have – thus supporting many acting coaches’ slogan of Acting is Reacting.

“As far as acting is concerned, I think, whether professionally trained or not, whether you hold a BA or MFA, an actor must be a good listener,” he adds. “You can get all the training in the world, but if you don’t have the ability to be present in the moment, and truly listen to your scene partner, it will be absolutely apparent onscreen or off.”

Byers’ conversation with the HJ continued regarding his theatrical career and an appreciation for the inspiring performers in his family.

What are some of your favorite roles you have played onstage/onscreen?

I love tackling comedic roles, because I feel they are the most challenging. Finding verisimilitude in comedy is possibly the greatest acting test there is. I was fortunate to be cast in some nice supporting comedic roles in professional productions at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. That was a wonderful challenge. A theater audience of over 500 people will almost always let you know if your acting is truthful. If it’s landing. Having been fortunate enough to be cast in roles like Thurio in Two Gentleman of Verona, Angelo in Comedy of Errors, DogBerry in Much Ado About Nothing, I was able to work on good parts in top flight productions, while still in grad school.

What are your “dream roles” / “dream shows” that you are waiting to play one day? Why those roles/productions?

I would love to have a career in episodic Television. I think the new streaming mediums, like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, are producing excellent TV content, with intriguing story lines. A reoccurring role on a well-written, well produced TV show would be a dream. And the dark comedies are my personal favorite as they always seem to be the most ground-breaking.

Can you elaborate about your production company and its vision?

My company, Cloverleaf Collective, is focused on creating new content in TV, Film, and Theatre. More specifically, we are focusing on engaging original stories. That is the goal. There’s just no beating a good story, and it does seem like the creative industry is running dry on original ideas. That’s why I admire the work done by the streaming mediums like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. The original content being produced just seems to get better and better every month.

Lowell “Bada Book Bada Boom” Byers (left) appears in the national Choice Hotel commercials. PHOTOS COURTESY LOWELL BYERS

How has it been since you shot the Bada Book, Bada Boom commercials?

Booking the Choice Hotels commercial was certainly a thrilling moment. Getting that phone call from my agent, “Are you ready to go to LA?” is one of those wonderful pipe dream moments an actor fantasizes about. While being on set, I quickly learned that I not only lucked into a national commercial, but a national campaign, complete with a catch phrase. Shooting those commercials has been a good reminder that I am capable of tackling comedy. I certainly owe a lot to the Old Globe MFA program in helping me to discover my natural comedic abilities through their vigorous commedia and clown work.

Describe the influence that both your Papou Athan and father have had on you in regards to acting and performing.

My grandfather, Athan Karras, the actor, director, dancer and choreographer, who I miss dearly, was a huge influence on my life and career. When I was just starting out as an actor, I remember his much-needed encouragement over the phone. He could always help me to see the bright side of a situation. He was an avid optimist in the face of adversity. If I was performing in an Off-Off Broadway play in a small, remote black box theater where the audience attendance was weak, Papou would say, “That’s great. You’re acting. You’re doing it,” and he was right. I think every actor must not only possess a thick skin, but must be optimistic as well. As my Father likes to remind me, “In this business, you can make a killing, you just can’t make a living.” Right now, I have had some commercial success, but I also realize that it won’t last forever. It’s a roller coaster ride, the trick is figuring out how to stay on it.

Lowell experienced Greece in 2008 with his papou, Athan Karras.
PHOTOS COURTESY LOWELL BYERS

Can you describe your trip to Greece with your Papou Athan? What were some of the highlights?

If one is fortunate enough, there are certain moments that happen in your life where you can look back and say, “Wow. I’m really glad I did that.” That was my trip to Greece with my papou. He and I flew to Greece together in mid-Fall of 2008 and traveled all over the country. We went to the Islands, as well as North and South mainland Greece. It was great to go to Northern Greece, specifically Thessaloniki and Litohoron where my great grandfather was from. It was wonderful to physically bump into Karrakitsos relatives while we were there. Then to look up and see the “Throne of Zeus” on the Mt. Olympus mountain top from the town square. It is an incredibly breathtaking and majestic country. As amazing and exciting as that trip was, I’d say the highlights of the trip were the quiet, serene moments of travel where I could just be present alongside my papou. He was a man with a beautiful soul that adored Greek culture, and I was fortunate to spend that special time with him.

For more information on Lowell Byers, visit his official website www.lowellbyers.net.

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Email the author: Giuliana Harris

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