Oliver King: Up close and personal
KAUNEOGA LAKE, NY — For Oliver King, the art of acting is a very intimate affair.
“For years I’ve done simple excerpts of Douglass’ works for the Sullivan County chapter of the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH) during Black History Month, and am honored to be portraying both Douglass and Martin Luther King this year, and having the opportunity to present their complete works for students at SUNY Sullivan and in our local schools,” said King.
The ASALH was established in 1915 with the stated mission “…to promote, research, preserve, interpret, and disseminate information about Black life, history and cultural to the global community…”
Of his passionate portrayals of Frederick Douglass, King said, “A more complex luminary, inextricably seething with pure, innocent, instinctual primal rage and compassion has rarely graced the pages of American history. He was truly unique, a veritable pioneer in the efforts toward abolition…
“Portraying him with honesty leaves me breathless and often choking back tears.”
At the conclusion of his presentation of Douglass’ writings at the Hurleyville Arts Center on February 8, as King quietly exited the stage the audience was so moved by the spellbinding performance it seemed as if a noted historical figure was actually present that evening, some 165 years after Douglass read “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” in Rochester, NY on July 5, 1852.
“I have always been honored, yet humbled, to portray a person of such enormous human and historical dimensions," added King.
Oliver King, like most African-Americans today, can trace his linage back to the dark days of slavery in this country.
Although the precise details are somewhat lost in the mists of time, King recalled that family lore tells a story from the 1800s, a time when some of his mother’s relatives “were purchased as slaves," adding that during a self-described “Alex Haley road trip to South Carolina” in the 1980s, he met three elderly people “who claimed to be cousins of my mother’s grandfather.”
According to King, he learned that his forbearers once lived and worked on the Felder plantation.
“In the early 1800s they were allowed to stay together in one area on the plantation on two acres, weren’t ever mistreated, could marry and have children, and weren’t raped or plundered…”
“I saw people in their 90s or older," he recalled, perhaps envisioning the slaves who once toiled in bondage growing hazelnuts, coffee, tobacco and sweet potatoes for their "masters"
King was born and raised in Harlem to parents who came from the South, and grew up in Queens, and later embarked on various different pathways in life.
Reflecting back on the 1960s, he said “In those years so many things happened," noting the deaths of Robert F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the rise of the civil rights movement across the nation.
“We were all gathered around one black and white television…my parents and six siblings”, said of watching the world unfold on that little box in the living room.
As a teenager growing up in New York City, King worked with Geraldine Fitzgerald and MarketaKimbrel, both of whom insisted he continue his acting studies with Lee Strasberg.
“The man literally not only changed my life, but my entire outlook on the art of being an actor”, he recalled of Strasberg’s influential guidance.
For several years, King performed diverse roles with the Sullivan County Dramatic Workshop in notable productions including “Arsenic & Old Lace”, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Ebenezer Scrooge”, “Kris Kringle”, “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
He choreographed and performed several productions with the Delaware Valley Opera, and staged his own versions of “Shakespeare in the Park” for at-risk youth and their families at LaPlot Park in Liberty. NY.
King was the first to produce and direct the county’s first-ever all African-American version of “A Raisin in the Sun”, in which he played the lead character Walter Lee.“I’ve also had thedistinct pleasure of writing, producing and directing two lovely tributes to our county: “Murder on the Stone Arch Bridge” and “Bethel: House of God," said King.
Most recently, he appeared as Captain Glory in the North American Cultural Laboratory’s (NACL) production of “Courage” starring the inventively dynamic and groundbreaking ensemble ‘celebrating 20+ years of exploration and diversity’ co-founder TannisKowalchuk.
Upcoming this season, King will facilitate a performing arts workshop for youth at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
More about Frederick Douglass
Online exhibit in celebration of the bicentennial of Frederick Douglass's birth, showcasing his life at Cedar Hill, Anacostia, Southeast Washington, DC, where he lived from 1878 until his death in 1895: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/exhibit/JAJS3_QleTI7IQ
"Life and Times of Frederick Douglass," the third version of Douglass's autobiography: http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/dougl92/dougl92.html