Olson’s final masterpiece
November 3, 2018
Rolf Olson pours his coffee silently and dramatically while the cast watches on. They sit, waiting for him to start talking. Everyone listens to every word he says, even when his dialogue diverts to a topic unrelated to theatre.
For 38 years, Rolf Olson has been teaching English, leading Eagle Vision News and directing musicals and plays at Eden Prairie High School. Through his years as an essential member of the EPHS staff, he has helped to create a positive learning environment for his students to thrive. In his final year, we reflect on his impact on EPHS.
Everyone who has worked with him, whether they are students, actors, technicians or teachers, say that he is one of the best people they have worked with. When he is directing, he gives students space to create while giving guidelines to steer them in the right direction. Aden Bickler, a junior who has acted in many of Olson’s productions, said, “He lets you experiment and really try things out. He lets you build the character that you want and you relate to.”
Inside and outside of rehearsal, students know they can depend on Olson for advice and guidance. Junior Elias Turner said, “He cares for everybody. He is someone you can talk to about anything.” Olson believes in every students’ capabilities and is always there to support in any way needed.
Students feel comfortable approaching Olson for advice on personal, educational and theatrical issues. Whenever there is a problem, Olson will do everything he can to help solve it. “He is always there for emotional support and he always gives the best advice no matter what,” said Bickler.
Olson always finds the balance between work and fun. In his career, he has worked on over 100 productions that surprise and amaze audiences and participants alike. Students describe Olson as peculiar, interesting and energetic. He is known for changing topics at a flip of a hat and going off on a tangent about an unrelated topic.
Not only does Olson direct the fall musical every year, he directs tech for the winter show, directs the spring show, teaches English 9 and AP Literature and leads Eagle Vision News. Olson is simultaneously everywhere doing everything, while also being impossible to find. When you are looking for him, you won’t be able to find him, but sometimes you will whisper his name and he will walk through the door at the exact moment you need him. Senior technician Molly Sheehan said, “I honestly think he has magical powers.”
One of the many things that sets Olson apart from other directors is that he is set in his morals. A colleague of 35 years, Susan Sime, said Olson reminds her of Atticus from “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “He is good at what he does and excellence is really important to him,” she said. “When something goes wrong, he is so strong in who he is, it doesn’t phase him. He works with people to figure it out.”
Katie Nowak, a student of Olson’s agreed that Olson is very set in his morals, “He is really not afraid to put whatever his vision is on stage even if it is a little bit controversial.” In 2017 Olson directed “Legally Blonde” as the fall musical, which was a surprising choice to many students. The show had a few themes that some audience members found inappropriate. Olson knew this reaction may occur, but stood strong in the show he was doing and ended up directing a show that sold out at multiple performances and captivated audiences.
This year, Olson chose “Hairspray” as his final musical. Immediately, conversations erupted over the lack of diversity in theatre. Olson knew it would be a challenge, but knew it was the right thing to do. He knew this show and the themes presented are relevant to Eden Prairie High School and even the drama department.
Sometimes you will find Olson walking out of the Auditorium at an odd time of day. He said, “every time I sit in a darkened theater, and I go in there and just sit sometimes—this is a weird thing—I’ve been sitting in there and communing with all of the memories of what we’ve done in that space and every show that we close becomes a ghost.” A well known story told around the drama department is the existence of theatre ghosts. Fred and Greg, who haunt the Performing Arts Center and Auditorium, respectively, have been around longer than Olson.
Olson has been monumental in transforming the drama department and helping create the amazing shows it produces. To many students and colleagues, Olson is so much more than just a teacher or director. Sime said, “In some ways he’s like everyone’s dad because whenever he’s around, you know everything is going to be okay. I don’t care how messed up things are, if Rolf is there, everything will be okay, we’ll figure it out.”