About the Playwright
Phil Olson has 13 published plays that have had more than 300 productions around the U.S.,
Canada, and Australia. Momís Gift will be his seventh play published by Samuel French. The
others include, Donít Hug Me, A Donít Hug Me Christmas Carol, A Donít Hug Me County Fair,
Donít Hug Me Iím Pregnant, A Nice Family Gathering, and Polyester The Musical. Watch for
Donít Hug Me, Weíre Married to open in 2014.
INTERVIEW with PHIL OLSON
Written by Steve Peterson
During high school and at Dartmouth you excelled and were recognized for sports. After you graduated college
you tried out for the Chicago Bears. What happened to change that career choice?
I wanted to be a pro football player, but the Chicago Bears didnít have the same vision that I had.
They placed me on waivers after a month in training camp. I then went to the University of Chicago
Graduate School of Business and got an MBA. I could have tried out again the next year, but I decided
to continue with graduate school. I looked at the math. The average career in the NFL is 3 years. Plus
you get brain damage. When I look back on it, though, I should have tried out again. You only go around once in life.
When did you first become interested in theatre? How did the switch from a career in finance to playwriting come about?
I was working in commercial real estate in Tampa, Florida when one of my clients asked me to perform in
ďshoot, donít shootĒ training films for the police department. I never acted before but I thought it might be fun,
so I said yes. I acted in several industrial films playing different roles, a bad guy that gets shot, a husband in
a domestic dispute, a senator that gets kidnapped. Because they werenít scripted, I had to improvise my lines.
I did pretty well improvising, got the acting bug, and started doing sketch comedy and theatre in Florida. It took
off from there.
When did you start writing plays and what intrigued you about playwriting?
I started writing sketch comedy in Tampa, Florida. When I moved to Los Angeles, I wrote my first two-act play
when I was 40. Prior to that, I had written a couple screenplays that didnít get made, so I wrote a play. Itís much
easier to get a play produced than a movie. My third play, ďDonít Hug Me,Ē was my first attempt at a musical. I
started writing the book and the lyrics, but I didnít have any experience writing music, so I asked my brother, Paul,
if he would compose the music. My brother is a doctor, a nephrologist, living in Minnesota. He was in the band all
thru college, and as it turns out, is very good at composing music. Heís written the music to all four ďDonít Hug MeĒ
musicals. We are currently working on the fifth ďDonít Hug MeĒ musical that will open in 2014.
When did you get involved with the Group Rep and mounting the world premiere of your plays there?
I joined the Group Rep in 1994. Lonny Chapman gave me my first break as a playwright by mounting my first world
premiere, ďCrappie Talk,Ē in 1997. He then did the world premiere of my next play, ďA Nice Family Gathering,Ē in 2000,
ďA Donít Hug Me Christmas CarolĒ in 2006, ďA Donít Hug Me County FairĒ in 2009, and now ďMomís GiftĒ which opend
December 6th, 2013.
What are some of the topics and themes you approach with your work?
I grew up in an emotionally reserved Scandinavian household in Minnesota. The closest we came to hugging was an
armís length, pat on the shoulders, awkward hug. My father would tell us that he was the Norwegian who loved his wife
so much, he almost told her. Thereís a lot of comedy in that kind of upbringing. The themes in my plays revolve around
emotionally reserved, non-communicative families, that in the end, learn that itís okay to hug and to say, I love you.
The DONíT HUG ME series of plays with music that you wrote with your brother have been very successful and performed throughout
the country and have been published by Samuel French, as have a few other plays that wrote. To what do you attribute the success of this
series of plays?
I think they play in so many cities around the country because the themes in the DONíT HUG ME musicals are universal.
A lot of people can relate to someone in their life who is emotionally reserved, who has a hard time communicating their
affection. Also, people like regional plays and musicals like ďGreater TunaĒ or ďPump Boys & Dinnettes.Ē The DONíT HUG ME
musicals take place in a small town in northern Minnesota, and that quirky environment is appealing to people around the
country. Theyíre also successful because of the small cast (five characters), and being able to use a sound track for the songs.
You donít need a band. So they are very inexpensive to produce.
MOMíS GIFT already has buzz, having won numerous playwriting awards at contests and festivals throughout the United States.
What is MOMíS GIFT about?
MOMíS GIFT is a comedy with a heart. Mom has been dead for 11 months and shows up at her husbandís birthday party
as a ghost with a mission. Like Clarence in ďItís A Wonderful Life,Ē she has to accomplish a task to earn her wings. Only what
the task actually is, is a mystery. There are so many things to fix. The problem is complicated by the fact that the only person
who can hear or see Mom is her daughter who has been ordered by the court to spend Dadís birthday with him as part of her
Anger Management Program. One by one the family's secrets are peeled away revealing a shocking truth that surprises even our ghost.
What do you want the audience to feel or take away from having seen your play?
I want the audience to really enjoy the play. I want them to laugh and to cry, and to feel the emotions that the characters on stage
are feeling. In a review for one of my plays, the critic said he went home and told his daughter that he loved her. That would be
nice if they told someone they loved them after seeing MOMíS GIFT.
Whatís up next for you (in regards to your writing, acting, etc.)?
Iím working with my brother on DONíT HUG ME, WEíRE MARRIED, the fifth in the DONíT HUG ME series. It will open in 2014.
Is there anything else you want us to know about you (career) or the current production at the Group Rep?
I hope that everyone comes out and see MOMíS GIFT. MOMíS GIFT has won more awards than any of my other plays at this
point and people are telling me itís my best work. It just might be. Iím very proud of it.
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