Interview by Kathy Heinrichs Wiest
George Akina of North Fresno (Calif.) Church didn’t let stage IV prostate cancer prevent him from auditioning for Fresno’s Good Company Players’ recent production of The King and I. The 63-year-old veteran of dozens of community theater productions played the King of Siam to critical acclaim in 26 performances this past spring.
When did you learn you had cancer?
On March 15, 2013, while rehearsing Fiddler on the Roof. Fortunately, I was playing the elderly rabbi. It is a very aggressive cancer and has since spread throughout my entire skeleton.
Is there a Scripture that has helped you face the diagnosis?
Philippians 4:6-7 is the verse I have shared the most over the decades. It was wonderful to have “the peace that passes all understanding” become my own, personal reality.
Why did you audition for The King and I knowing that your health was so uncertain?
This was my dream role and I knew that if God was in it, I would get the role even though the director and staff knew fully of my situation.
How have you dealt with this demanding role?
It’s really been a journey about the “King of Kings” and I. I would go to the theater regardless of pain, fatigue and medication sideeffects, knowing that even though I might not be up to it, he always was.
Was the deathbed scene at the end difficult to do?
No, I was acting, but it was often difficult for my wife and children to be reminded of my mortality. Fortunately, the curtain call closely followed as a reminder of my immortality.
Why do you enjoy theater?
God has given me gifts which I can express on stage. It’s when I’m on stage using those gifts that I feel the most fulfilled, most alive and most in his will.
For more about Akina read the The King and I review by Fresno Bee art critic Donald Munro at http://fresnobeehive.com/archives/31713 and Munro’s profile of Akina at http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/05/03/3905342/for-this-king-a-role-that-challenges.html?sp=/99/1355/209/222/.
Editor's Note: The King and I closed May 16. George Akina died Oct. 10, 2014. He is survived by his wife, Jenny Akina, their four children and their spouses and two grandchildren.