– Since 1985, actor Floyd King has been nominated for 16 Helen Hayes Awards and has received 5 Awards. –
When you’re young, I think you go to the theatre to find out that you’re not alone. As children we often harbor this fear that we’re not like everyone else, so it’s a great moment when you realize that you’re not the only one who believes something, or behaves a certain way. I think I first got involved with theatre because it confirmed my sanity.
I grew up in Port Arthur, Texas. When I was a kid, there wasn’t much theatre around. But my father would take me occasionally. I remember seeing my first musical — a production of Oliver! — when I was 16. Maybe I was a little old to be as enchanted by it as I was, but, oh well. Of course I wanted to be Fagan, not one of the orphans. Then in college I started acting. It was a secret desire of mine.
Theatre can make people braver. You don’t go because you want to see “normal.” You go to see the eccentric, the unusual, the fascinating. You want to be transported, and you want to be what you just saw. That’s why kids re-enact plays and movies when they get home from the theatre — they hold onto the fantasy. Then when you get older, you start to find out that you are, actually, alone in the universe… But there’s something comforting in that too, somehow. I guess it’s the trust in your own independence.
I’m always impressed by the supporting actors. This year’s nominees included. Even in a really large show with a large cast, everybody still has their own character, and everyone works hard with what they have. It’s true that when there are many characters, a lot of the roles are small. But you can be in a thirty-character musical and still have a brilliantly written part.
There’s so much more theatre in DC now than there used to be. So it’s much harder now to get nominated. And therefore, a greater honor when you are! Especially with supporting roles. There are just so many of them! To be noticed as one out of a limited pool of lead roles is one thing. To be noticed out of everyone on every stage all together — that’s extra special.
I’ve been in a lot of ensemble plays, many of them in difficult period or style. Pretty much anything I’ve ever done at the Shakespeare Theatre, actually. In those cases, everything changes, except for the humanity of the person. You just have to remember that people are the same. Acting is, at its most basic, listening and responding. That’s how you learn who your character is. It’s also how you learn about who you are yourself.
There was a lot of great ensemble and supporting play in doing The History Boys at Studio Theatre. That was a wonderful experience. But supporting roles can be quite difficult. When I was playing Feste in Twelfth Night at Shakespeare Theatre a few years ago, I served as the primary responder to many other characters. How they behaved, and what they gave me, dictated how I responded. All of Shakespeare’s fools are that way — they are commentators. If most other characters can be played a thousand ways, you could say that the fool characters can be played a million ways. That was always great fun, because my performance would change from night to night based directly on my fellow actors.
Often my characters are based on someone I know, or used to know. Those people wouldn’t recognize themselves, necessarily. But that’s to be expected. People often look at the same thing and all see something different. How I look at a person is not how they see themselves.
Art imitates life, but sometimes young actors will imitate other actors rather than trusting that their own selves are truthful. If you’re drawing on something other than yourself, that can be phony. It can be ape-ish. This is especially bad when stage actors imitate film actors.
We work off of instinct a lot. There’s nothing mystical about it — you might say instinct is just knowledge that you’ve forgotten over time. We can’t be expected to be conscious of everything we do. Yes, sometimes we’re self-aware — every actor has some moments when they’re doing a scene where they think, Oh, god, where did that come from? — but there’s a lot of instinct to acting too.
When I play eccentric characters, I never really think of them as eccentric. Sometimes, yes, they objectively are quite eccentric. But when you’re doing it, you have to believe every bit of it. That’s the character’s logic. And even though each character has a different kind of eccentricity, I find that when I play them they almost always contain facets of my own eccentricities.
You can learn a lot even in the supporting roles. I’d say especially in the supporting roles. Right now I’m having such a wonderful time in a supporting role in 1776 at Ford’s. Then I’m going into The Merry Wives of Windsor at Shakespeare Theatre playing a very difficult supporting role — Sir Hughes, the Welsh parson. It’s a good role, but I’ve always considered it unplayable. Every time I’ve done that show I think: I’m glad I don’t have to play that part! So, I’d better get over that feeling pretty quick.
But, look, one of the reasons I’m in this business is a great curiosity I have not only about the world, but about myself. You have to dig in to discover.
Find more tributes to the Nominees on Curtain Call