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The golden years

Professor James Floss shares his long theatrical history here at HSU as he gets ready retire

At a young age James Floss had an incredible journey, following his courageous instinct and natural talent for the performing arts. After failing his pre-med class at the University of Buffalo, Floss decided to drop out and journey on to a new path.

“I had failed the class and I have never failed anything in my life, it just rocked my world,” Floss said.

With the help of a friend from Stanford and a couch to crash on; Floss was already on the path to what would soon become his career. When he heard that his friend’s girlfriend was attending Humboldt State at the time, Floss decided to visit and immediately was mesmerized with the school.

“I just fell in love with it; the natural beauty of it,” Floss said.

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Floss (right) pictured in the Lumberjack Newspaper back in 1982. Demonstrating a duel during a “combat” class. | Photo courtesy James Floss

A new beginning formed for Floss, and even though he transitioned to a town he wasn’t familiar with, it didn’t seem like he had trouble adjusting to the new environment. He eventually had to find a place of his own, but because he was by himself, he thought of something clever.

“After dropping out of ‘pre med’ I was on my own, I learned how to live cheap,” Floss said.

Living cheap meant living in a treehouse behind the school. Some may say that living in a treehouse is bizarre, and they might as well be right, but Floss made it work. He built it with another close friend of his and lived in it for quite some time. It seemed to be a comfortable way to live, and most importantly he saved money without having to worry about other living expenses.

“I didn’t consider myself homeless, I was trying to live cheap,” Floss said.

Floss adapted to the HSU community quickly; he found himself participating in many theatrical activities and became a part of a few performative groups. One group in particular was the Humboldt “Chamber Readers.” They are an organization that tours around the schools of Humboldt, delivering creative performances to students ranging from kindergarten to high school. This also happened to be his main source of income that helped him pay through college.

Another group that Floss joined back in the day were the “Sweet Georgia Brown Clowns.” The group of clowns were introduced to each other by performing arts professor, Gale Mcneeley. Mcneeley taught “clowning” and “advanced clowning” while Floss attended HSU. Floss juggled, mimed and occasionally dressed as a clown with other members. They were active for only six years but Floss became wonderful friends with the group and is still in contact.

“He (Mcneeley) got us our first tour going and we stayed together as a clown troupe,” Floss said.

With a wide variety of organizations and clubs that he took part of, Floss truly found his inspiration for the performing arts here at Humboldt State. At the time, guest artists from Dell’Arte which is the International School of Physical Theatre, located in Blue Lake, would come to HSU and teach special skills to students such as clowning, stage combat, and mime. He received an education basically equivalent to those who attended Dell’Arte.

“It was an accidental career, it was not what I intended to set out to do.”

James Floss

Floss had an outstanding time in college with the theatre department. He kept falling towards more roles, more concepts and more projects; it all came to him naturally.

“I call them my golden years, I was just having fun, I was really enjoying my experience as an undergrad at Humboldt State University,” Floss said. “I got the letter six years in that said ‘you must graduate,’ they kicked me out. I was just enjoying taking classes.”

After graduating HSU in 1985, Floss was hoping to become a professional actor, but Humboldt had other plans for him. Later he developed an interest in directing, but as he continued to be an active member in the “Chamber Readers,” Floss realized that he also enjoyed teaching. A job opening for a teaching position back at HSU was brought to his attention, accidentally landing him the role of a full-time professor.

“They needed somebody to teach a one unit class in oral interpretation as part of the ‘Teacher Preparation Program,’ so that was my foot in the door,” Floss said. “It was an accidental career, it was not what I intended to set out to do.”

Although it was not the career Floss anticipated; he didn’t regret teaching at all. Floss has absolutely loved his time working here as a professor and sharing different experiences with students throughout the 34 years that he has been teaching. He is known for his vivid ways of teaching, making each class fun and exciting.

“For me it’s a performance thrill; I’m using my theatre skills everyday in the classroom,” Floss said. “My lectures are my performances.”

Students who have already taken a communications class with professor Floss, like Bryan Taylor and Jesse Morales, find Floss’ methods of teaching to be very engaging.

Morales said that having Floss as his professor is always entering and super fun.

“I’m sad to see him go…I’ve never had somebody who brings so much of theatrics to communications.”

Bryan Taylor

“I like it, compared to other teachers it keeps me awake, cause a lot of teachers just kind of sit there and lecture, it’s very difficult to stay focused,” Morales said.

Taylor said that Floss is the more interesting professor he’s ever experienced.

“He’s theatrical than any teacher that I’ve had in the communications kind of world,” Taylor said.

Floss brings creativity and individuality into his classes. He is a wonderful professor that encourages students to be more active in class, building a positive environment for all who enter his space. Seeing him leave the HSU community for retirement at the end of the school year will surely be bitter.

“I’m sad to see him go, you know? He’s just a very different teacher, I’ve never had somebody who brings so much of theatrics to communications,” Taylor said.

As for plans after retirement, Floss is wanting to travel with his wife. He will be exploring more cultures as he is in the process of adapting a new project called “Immigrant Voices” into a stage show, this show will include real stories of real people and their take on immigration.

“These are the real words of real people, I just want to make a theatrical show out of it,” Floss said.

Aside from that, he is looking forward to what his retirement has in store for him. The renowned actor and proud “Excellence in Teaching” award recipient will soon bid farewell to HSU, a school that has treated James Floss to a great deal of fantastic experiences that he can hold on to as lasting memories.

“I have loved it, it was wonderful,” Floss said.

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