The Colgate Scene
July 2004

The songbird's journey

[Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

When Mary King '04 was growing up in Oklahoma, reading just wasn't part of her repertoire. At least, not until her grandmother got her to change her tune on an unlikely stage: the dining room table.

One day, Mmemme, as King calls her grandmother, brought her along to the library, ostensibly only to choose books for herself. Back at home, while King sat at the dining room table, Mmemme began preparing dinner. Bemoaning the fact that she was too busy to read, she asked her granddaughter to read to her while she cooked.

"I think it was Little House in the Big Woods," said King. "I said, well, I can do that. Then I couldn't put it down. I began reading out loud to her every day. After that, we would go to the library and she had to limit me to taking out seven or eight books at a time."

King credits her grandparents, who adopted her when she was 10, with supporting her artistic and intellectual endeavors and "teaching me to work hard enough to come to Colgate." She was the first person in her family to go to college.

She spoke about her grandparents, as well as her experiences at Colgate, when she served as the student speaker at the annual Scholarship Recognition Dinner in April. She was the recipient of the Lila and Curtiss Frank '25 Endowed Scholarship as well as the Oklahoma/Colgate Endowed Scholarship (created by Bruce Crum '72).

After having been immersed in music at her high school for the visual and performing arts, King continued to be involved in a plethora of musical activities in college, from University Chorus and the Swinging 'Gates, to serving as a cantor for Newman Community services and co-founding the Newman Community Choir, to performing in musicals. Her crystal soprano was also in demand for special events on campus, including U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Upstate Institute address this spring. Clinton told the crowd that King's performance of the national anthem was one of the best a cappella renditions she'd ever heard.

During her sophomore year, though, her singing career was abruptly cut off for three months when she strained her voice.

"It was very depressing. I couldn't even sing along to the radio," King said. But the proverbial closed door opened a new window. She surprised herself by landing the role of Li'l Bit in the Student Theater production of Paula Vogel's play How I Learned to Drive.

"I was really kind of floored, because I had only done musicals before. I was always under the impression that musical theater isn't real acting," she remarked. "Li'l Bit basically links the whole show together with monologues, and she ages in the show from 7 to 40." Straight acting became a new passion for King.

As a junior, she portrayed a country girl from northern England, work-ing hard on mastering the proper accent, as Kate in Midsummer, written and directed by David Pinner.

"Mary's one of the most talented actors I have taught at Colgate," said Pinner, who has directed University Theater productions for a dozen years as a visiting professor. "She's grown both in confidence and technique, and she showed a very true sense of comedy and of what is genuinely theatrical."

In her senior year alone, King directed The Boyfriend for Student Musical Theater, performed the lead in University Theater's Flatspin, and created the role of Jane in Season Turn, written for the department's Spring Festival of Plays by Rebecca Spiro '05.

In that role, said Pinner, "Mary showed the kind of depth that she has as an actress. She seems to be able to laugh and cry on the turn of a dime. She also brings to the rehearsal situation, and to the classroom, an enormous amount of warmth and enthusiasm." King received the Howard W. and Anne T. Pike Memorial Prize for outstanding achievement and participation in theater this year.

King also acted in CUTV's homegrown soap opera, Madison U, wrote for the Maroon-News, served as a resident advisor/community coordinator, served on the Interfaith Council, and was an active participant in the Newman Community.

"[My faith] was a huge part of my life before I came to Colgate, and it was wonderful that we have such a strong community here," she said. "It's something that gives me a whole other dimension to my life, and the Newman Community has been really amazing."

Despite her artistic ambitions, King said she deliberately chose the liberal arts over a conservatory education.

"I wanted to experience as much as I possibly could, as far as great texts and ultimate questions and philosophy and politics," she said. She planned to major in music, but in her first semester, Introduction to Drama with Marjorie Kellogg led her down a different path. "I really enjoyed the text and the structure of the class," she said. Several English courses later, she decided to major in English, and a course called Politics and Moral Vision led her to a minor in political science.

As a member of the fall 2002 London English Study Group, King said she "experienced London in such a diverse and incredible way. I was studying the Poor Laws of 1834, and I went into this library. They were handing me minutes from the Poor Law Commission meetings -- the original handwriting, the seals -- it was incredible. We saw a play every Wednesday. We took a trip to Bath. We saw Stonehenge. And studying Shakespeare in London with Margaret Maurer is unbelievable."

"What makes a student stand out for me is the ability to be intelligent in a kind of risky way, and Mary has that," said Maurer, William Henry Crawshaw Professor of literature. Maurer's students on the study group had to make presentations on things they could find in London museums that were related to the coursework. "When we did the first part of King Henry VI by Shakespeare, which is almost never taught to undergraduates, Mary volunteered to do that presentation with another student. They did a brilliant job."

Inducted into the Phi Eta Sigma national honor society, King twice earned the Dean's Award for Academic Excellence, received the Campus Life Award, and graduated cum laude.

Those who know King well characterize her as humble, sweet, and giving. In May, when she had finished her final exams and her friends were still toiling on their tests, King -- an avid cook -- could be found in her Parker Apartment baking cookies for them, even leaving a bowl in the fridge for one who loves raw dough.

King hopes to spend the first part of the summer in Atlanta, acting in an independent film for a producer/director who offered her a role after seeing her in a spring Colgate Arts! Festival production. Then, after going home to Oklahoma City briefly, at the encouragement of her professors, King will move to Chicago to give acting a try.

"One of my friends is graduating in December and we are planning to see what damage we can do with the theater scene there," she said, chuckling. "I'm really excited about it."

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