Actor, director, producer, he continues to do it all
By Alec Clayton
Niclas Olson as Hamlet, photo courtesy New Muses Theatre
Niclas Olson is the founder and Artistic Director of New Muses Theatre Company in Tacoma. He adapts the primarily classic plays the company produces, and more often than not directs their productions and performs in the leading role. Plus, he does lighting design and other technical work for New Muses and other area theaters. You have likely seen him as Peer Gynt, Hamlet, Romeo, Victor Frankenstein, Tom in The Glass Menagerie and a prince in Into the Woods.
Olson got his start in theater when he appeared in The Nutcracker when he was 5 or 6 years old. After that he “dabbled” in acting but didn’t take it seriously and began to look at acting as a career path until he was in college.
“I've always loved stories,” he says. “I was a voracious reader as a child and spent much of my time pretending and imagining. I used to joke that I was an actor because it was the only way they'd let me play dress-up as an adult. The joy of acting to me is very much about the disappearing act, getting to experience someone else's shoes for two hours. Directing, on the other hand, is all about finding the essence of the larger story and guiding it into focus.”
When asked what are the favorite plays he has directed or acted in, he said, “As a director, my first Hamlet was a big milestone in my understanding of what I do well as a director. Ibsen's Ghosts was a show I was incredibly proud of. Of Mice and Men at Tacoma Little Theatre was just a really wonderful experience. Premiering a brand new adaptation of Frankenstein was incredibly nerve-wracking but ended up being an artistic highlight for me. I could go on and on. As an actor, I love good writing, and I've been lucky enough to play classic parts like Hamlet, Romeo, and Faustus and more modern roles in plays like The Farnsworth Invention.”
It is said that actors should never direct themselves, especially not in lead roles; and yet Olson has done it repeatedly and successfully. He says the idea that actors should not direct themselves comes from the misconception that if an actor is directing themselve, then no one is directing the rest of the play. “If I'm directing a play where I'm also playing a role, even a lead, I'm the director first and the actor second, especially during early rehearsals. And only the compartmentalized director portion of my brain gets to make decisions about the production, give notes to other actors, or even judge my own performance. My overall approach to directing is very heavy on preparation and planning before rehearsals get started. If I tried to direct ‘organically’ while also being on stage, it would fail miserably. But with a strong blueprint in place, I find that working in an actor/director capacity creates a different type of collaboration that is actually very productive and enjoyable. With focus, preparation, and collaboration, when it comes time for the director brain to step aside and let the actor focus individually, the production is already in good shape and can only get better. I always imagine it as two diagonal lines, the director line starting at the top and descending with the actor line taking the opposite track so that by opening the director can freely step away and the actor can be at the height of readiness.”
Up next for Olson is the classic French comedy Tartuffe by Moliere, which Olson adapted and directs. The cast has only partially been set. There will be a small cameo role as the King's Officer that will feature a different surprise actor every night.
Tartuffe, 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat, 2 p.m. Sun., June 28-July 14, $10-$15, Dukesbay Theatre, above the Grand Theater, 508 S. 6th Ave., Tacoma, https://www.newmuses.com/
Kaylie Rainer, Jazmine Herrington, Joel Thomas
Directed by Niclas Olson