CU Boulder’s BFA performance ‘boot camp’ molded actor Sergio King for success
Sergio King may now have a regular role in NBC’s hot new high-school musical drama series, Rise, but the truth is, he really tried not to become an actor.
Growing up on Colorado’s Front Range, from Colorado Springs to Longmont, he was mostly into sports—football, hoops, golf. He took piano lessons and performed in church programs, but he dreamed of Friday night lights, not footlights.
“Freshman year, I wanted to play football,” says King, 25 (BFA Theatre, ’15). “Unfortunately, everybody had grown bigger than I was, so sports was kind of off the table.”
When band didn’t pan out either, a counselor at Westminster’s Mountain Range High School suggested he try drama. Initially failing to shine there, as well, he was grateful when a teacher offered him extra credit if he would simply audition for the musical, “Bye, Bye Birdie.” To King’s — though perhaps not his astute teacher’s—surprise, he landed a major role.
“I found I loved the atmosphere of performing, and I continued to audition and perform throughout high school,” King says.
When it came time to go to college, he decided it was time to put away youthful things, and he entered the University of Colorado Boulder as an engineering major. Midway through his freshman year, he couldn’t shake a nagging lack of fulfillment.
“I couldn’t figure out what it was until I joined an a cappella group called In the Buff,” he recalls. “That got me back into performing, and I realized that’s what I was missing.”
He traded engineering for acting and auditioned his way into the Theatre and Dance Department’s challenging, highly regarded BFA performance program, in which students not only must keep up with their regular slate of classes, but often rehearse four hours a night for months at a time, even as they are auditioning for their next part.
Some graduates have likened the program to a kind of boot camp for the stage—that has paid off handsomely for its most illustrious graduates.
“We were pulling 15- and 16-hour days all the time. Coming out of that program, you viewed that as normal,” recalls Brian Dietzen, 40, a 2000 graduate who has played Dr. Jimmy Palmer on the long-running CBS series NCIS since 2004.
“Out here (in Hollywood), there comes a time when there’s a dude who looks just like me, is the same age and has the same training, and a lot of times the X-factor isn’t necessarily who is a better-looking guy, but who’s going to bust their butt more. If you see 14-hour days as normal, you are a step ahead of your competitors.”
King took the stage numerous times at CU, from his foppish, critic-and-crowd-pleasing turn as King Herod in 2015’s sold out Jesus Christ Superstar to roles in Our Town, Tartuffe and As You Like It. He also appeared in three small roles with CU Boulder’s professional Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
“Colorado Shakespeare Festival was the first time I really got to learn from people in the industry. It was incredible working alongside them and picking their brains, just seeing how they lived the life of an actor,” he says.
King also took advantage of the department’s Senior Showcase, which sends students to New York City over spring break to gain real-world experience auditioning for agents and casting directors, attend workshops, and, well, schmooze.
This was unlike anything I’d ever done. It required a lot of stamina. CU did a really good job of prepping us for that kind of environment and setting the work ethic that I have.”
“I went there kind of wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, not really expecting anything,” he says. “I was really blessed that a couple of agents were interested in me.”
King eventually signed with Barry Kolker of the Carson-Kolker Agency and moved to the city after graduating. He performed up and down the East Coast for six months with Theatre Works USA, a family-friendly touring company, and auditioned for the Broadway sensation Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rap-infused, Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical.
King made it to the fourth round of callbacks, but ultimately did not win a role.
“At the time I said, ‘Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all,’” he says.
What he didn’t know was that one of the producers of Hamilton, Jeffrey Sellers, was also co-producing Rise, and King was invited to audition.
The show, written by Jason Katims (a long-time producer whose credits include head writer and showrunner for the NBC high-school football drama, Friday Night Lights), Rise follows in the grand tradition of such wildly successful TV high-school dramas about, well, drama, such as Fame and Glee. The series revolves around theater teacher Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor) and his students at fictional Stanton High School.
This time around, King did win: He was cast in as Clark Howard, a new student who is drawn to the school’s close-knit theater community. He appears in nine of the first season’s 10 episodes, acting, singing and dancing, with small speaking roles in several.
“You really never know what will lead to what,” King says.
Doing what amounts to musical theater on a TV production schedule was a little like BFA boot camp on steroids. King says the production schedule weeks of long days that might run him through music and dance rehearsals, pre-track recording, scene shooting, and still more rehearsing, before he could take the train uptown and tumble into bed late each night.
“And then you do it the next day all over again,” he says, laughing. “This was unlike anything I’d ever done. It required a lot of stamina. CU did a really good job of prepping us for that kind of environment and setting the work ethic that I have.”
King is hopeful—and confident—that Rise will earn a second season from NBC.
“We are making really big waves,” he says. “Rise is a show that I think the younger generation needs to see. It talks about issues that are very prevalent in our society and how to deal with them. It’s about how to keep your sense of self when all this chaos is going on, when things don’t seem to be going your way, and how important friends and family are in those times of trouble.”