Phil Olson is a playwright that has found a way to take his NoHo Theatre productions on the road! What is your background? I grew up in Edina, Minnesota, home of the first indoor mall. My great grandparents on both sides of my family came over from Norway and I was raised in a very emotionally reserved Scandinavian household. I majored in mathematics at Dartmouth College where I played football on the Ivy League Championship Football Team and threw the shot and discus for the Track Team. After Dartmouth I tried out for the Chicago Bears, then went on to receive an MBA from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. After several years as a financial advisor, I left the business world and now I write and produce plays and musicals for a living.
How did you get involved with theatre? My entry into writing came in Tampa, Florida. I was working in commercial real estate and one of my clients asked me if I would perform in a “Shoot - Don’t Shoot” training film for the Tampa police. Even though I had no experience acting, I thought, “Cops and robbers? Cool. I’ll do it.” They told me the scenario of my first scene, a domestic dispute with my wife where we would argue and then she would shoot me. When I asked to see the script they said they didn’t have one, and I would just have to improvise. So, my first experience with writing came in improvising my own death. Thinking I was going to be the next great screenwriter, I moved to Los Angeles to seek fame and fortune. In Los Angeles I sold a couple screenplays that never got made, and I script doctored three screenplays that were produced, but nothing big. I really wanted to get something produced that I created, and since plays are easier to get produced than screenplays, I decided to write my first play. What drew you to playwriting? I went through the whole Groundling School and performed and wrote sketches with people like Maya Rudolf. One of my sketches that took place in a small bar in northern Minnesota did well, so I developed it into my first full length play. The play was called “Crappie Talk, and it had its world premiere at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep Theatre in North Hollywood in 1997. Tell us a about your current play, and the DHM franchise. Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant is the fourth in a series of Don’t Hug Me musicals I’ve written with my brother, Paul. They all take place in Bunyan Bay, Minnesota in a little north woods bar owned by Gunner and Clara Johnson. The previous three are Don’t Hug Me, A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol and A Don’t Hug Me County Fair. The original Don’t Hug Me was first produced at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks in November, 2003. A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol and A Don’t Hug Me County Fair had their world premieres at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep Theatre in North Hollywood. Now, seven years later, the three Don’t Hug Me musicals are published by Samuel French and have played in over 100 cities around the U.S. and Canada. I wanted to keep a good thing going so I wrote the fourth one, Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant, where Clara is 8 1/2 months pregnant with their first child. Suddenly, a freak snow storm, a "tsnownami," hits Bunyan Bay and they find themselves snowed in. Gunner's worst nightmare comes true when Clara goes into labor and he realizes he’s going to have to deliver the baby in the bar. What advice would you give to new playwrights? Two books I read when I first started writing were Syd Field's book, Screenplay, and Neil Simon's book Rewrites. Screenplay taught me the importance of story structure, and Rewrites the importance of character and doing rewrites. Good story structure and characters have helped me create plays and musicals that get published and produced around the country. Doing readings in front of audiences and getting feedback from them to help with rewrites is also very important to me in creating commercially successful plays and musicals. Anything else you want the readers to know about you, and/or what you do? Write what you know. My father once told me he was the Norwegian who loved his wife so much, he almost told her. That line inspired my play, A Nice Family Gathering, which has been produced all around the country, and recently in Australia. Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant Book & Lyrics by Phil Olson Music by Paul Olson Directed by Doug Engalla Choreography by Stan Mazin Featuring Greg Barnett, Rebekah Dunn, Bert Emmett, Patrick Foley, Natalie Lander The World Premiere of Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant runs September 30 - November 20, 2011, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday Matinee at 2pm, at the Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd. NoHo 91601. Tickets: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/855905 or 323-822-7898. For more info visit: DontHugMe.com