Alumni Profile • Anna Olson '98
Making a solid go of it

Anna OlsonThough she has acted in theater productions since junior high, it wasn’t until Anna Olson ’98 moved to Ireland that she appeared in what many consider the quintessential American play — Our Town.

She was cast as Emily Webb, the play’s lead. That was in the fall of 2001, and it was Olson’s first professional acting job after her graduation the prior spring from the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin. Calvin’s communication arts and sciences department periodically offers an interim course at Gaiety, and Olson auditioned for her place in its two-year training program when its director was in Grand Rapids.

“Calvin puts on professional-level shows,” said Olson, who was a member of the Calvin Theatre Company for four years, “so I felt not just well prepared for the Gaiety School, but even spoiled. It was jumping out into the professional scene that was hard — very hard.”

Though she won the lead role in an American play, she couldn’t find an agent who would represent her. The Irish market was — and still is — saturated with actors and, Olson said, “There’s even less work once they find out you’re an American.”

Being an American did help her get voice-over work with U.S. businesses that, before the fall of the dollar, went to Ireland to make training films. Even without an agent, Olson has found acting work with smaller Dublin theater companies and with an Irish regional company. For six months she toured with a theater-in-the-schools project that brought the world of bees to preschoolers. She’s appeared in several short films and as a back-up singer/dancer – a “Supreme” – in the feature film Ella Enchanted.

But Olson needed more. So, with three other actors, she founded AboutFace, a theater company dedicated to producing plays with strong story lines – often new plays by American playwrights.

“As an actor, you face so many rejections,” Olson explained. “Starting the company was the only way we knew to keep from getting bitter and angry. It’s the one way to ensure that we’re doing what we love and keeping our skills sharp for auditions.” A small fringe company, AboutFace shows make almost no money for its actor-members, so all are simultaneously looking for paying work.

Until this year Olson was able to find enough performance work of one kind or another to make ends meet. Now, to pay the bills, she’s begun working for the very-American “Curves” exercise studio in Dublin.

“The financial part of this profession is very draining,” Olson confessed. “It’s not success I want, just a living.” She and her new husband, Paul Nugent, also an actor, haven’t been able to get a loan for a home or even low-income housing.

“A lot of the time I’m asking God, ‘Why have you given us these talents and desires when it’s so hard to live them out?’ But I know there’s some reason I’m in this.”

Steadied by that belief, Olson and Nugent hope to move to New York City in the fall. “We’re going to give the acting thing a solid go there,” she said, “and see what happens.”

See the AboutFace Web site at www.aboutfacetheatrecompany.com. or Olson’s site: www.annaolson.net.