Theater is in her blood.
About two months before she was born, when Abby Olson’s mother Glenn Morehouse Olson was carrying her, Glenn was the public relations and marketing person for the Minnesota Fringe Festival in Minneapolis.
Next month Abby Olson, 16, an incoming senior at St. Francis High School and St. Francis resident, debuts her first work in the same festival in the capacity of a playwright. And she, her mother and father will act in the show.
Abby’s play, “On the Line,” a nearly hour-long mix of comedy and drama, will be one of 176 plays performed as part of the 2013 Minnesota Fringe Festival.
“It’s the first time my actual writing will be seen by my community,” said Olson, admitting that she was both excited and at the same time the proposition was a bit “scary.”
“On the Line” centers on three couples and their relationships. The piece examines the thin line between expectations in relationships. The play is laced with awkward pauses, humor, sincerity and musical interludes.
One scenario follows the story of Grace in a blossoming relationship with Sam. But shortly after Sam kisses her and then scrambles through a bathroom window, muttering the name of another woman, Linda, Grace is confused and upset. After a humorous exchange of misconceptions, Linda turns out to be Sam’s puppy, Linda Doggabone.
She acts, too
In addition to writing, Olson has acted in several productions at St. Francis High School. Among her roles, she played Rizo in “Grease,” Carmen Bernsein in “Curtains” and the Baker’s Wife in “Into the Woods.”
Additionally, she has played Rhonda in “Almost, Maine,” Gertrude McFuzz in “Seussical the Musical Jr.,” The Prince in “Romeo and Juliet” and Florence Williams in “The Curious Savage.”
She will play the character Poppy in “On the Line.”
Still, Olson holds a special regard for the written word. She has penned poems, short stories and play scenes. She has written a children’s play in her English honors class at school. But “On the Line” is her first big production as a playwright.
So what does writing mean to hear?
“I think if I could never write again, my head would explode,” Olson said. “I have so many things I’d like to show everyone.”
Olson developed her writing chops at the Guthrie Theatre’s Schools on Stage Program, which brings Guthrie artists into high schools. The artists works with students to write a piece in response to a current Guthrie production. Two of the scenes from “On the Line” are taken from Olson’s participation in the program.
Abby’s stage writing experience also received a boost when she was selected as one of six students to write mini plays on bullying for St. Paul’s Steppingstone Theatre for Youth Development.
As an offshoot of the Steppingstone workshop, she later was selected as one of two teen artists (the other being Michael Voit, a Blaine High School graduate) to collaborate at an international level with students from Transport Theatre in Ellesmere Port, England. The groups’ charge is to write a 70-minute play titled “Bully!” Plans are to perform the piece at Steppingstone in March 2014 and later in England.
‘Pieces of everybody’
For Abby, the best part of writing plays is creating characters. “They’re the kind of people I’d like to meet in real life,” she said. “They’re pieces of everybody I’ve met. It’s cool to see them on paper … and to see them as real people (on stage).”
Olson’s mother, who is the theater director at St. Francis High School, has been cast as Carolyn Carpe in her daughter’s Fringe play.
Carolyn, with her nose buried in a book, is trying to mind her own business at a bus stop, when a certain Charlie Berkley (Joel Olson, Morehouse Olson’s husband in real life and Abby’s father) keeps invading her personal space.
Morehouse Olson has directed her daughter in several school plays. Now, she’s acting in a production her daughter has written.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to see her spread her wings in this way,” Morehouse Olson said.
The process of stepping from spectator to performer in her lifelong theater involvements are interesting, Abby says.
“I’m just excited to be connected with something so prominent in our community,” she said of her upcoming debut as a playwright at the Fringe Festival.
Fringe Festival presents “On the Line,” written by Abby Olson, directed by Barb Hynes-Tomczyk, Thursday, Aug. 1, 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 4, 5:30 p.m.; Wednesday, Aug. 7, 8:30 p.m.; Thursday, Aug. 8, 10 p.m; and Saturday Aug. 10, 7 p.m. James Sewell Tek Box at the Cowles Center, 528 Hennepin Ave. Second floor, Minneapolis. For more information visit www.fringefestival.org.
Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]