Phil Olson grew up in Edina, Minnesota, home of the first indoor mall. After graduating from Dartmouth, and with a strong sports background, Phil tried out for the Chicago Bears. After his "summer with the Bears," he went on to receive an MBA from The University of Chicago and pursued a business career while writing plays and screenplays. Phil lives in LA where he writes and produces plays.
His 13 published plays have had over 300 productions in the U.S. and Canada. Plays published by Samuel French include Mom's Gift, Don't Hug Me, A Don't Hug Me Christmas Carol, A Don't Hug Me County Fair, Don't Hug Me I'm Pregnant, Polyester The Musical, and A Nice Family Gathering. As a script doctor,he’s re-written three movies that have been produced, as well as thirteen original screenplays. Phil has written five award-winning plays set in small towns in Minnesota.
By guest writer Steve Peterson
Your series of “Don’t Hug Me Musicals” have been very successful, with numerous productions performed across the United States every year. What element or elements about the play and the ‘characters’ hanging out at a bar in Bunyan Bay, Minnesota do you think appeals to most audience members?
I think the universal themes of the stories and the quirky characters is what appeals to audiences across the country. The stories are about relationships, a marriage that has gone stale and needs a little love and romance to get back on track, a younger couple looking for love, a jealous ex-boyfriend wanting to win his girlfriend back. I think people across the country can relate to what the characters are going through, and I think they really enjoy the setting being a quirky little town in northern Minnesota, not too far from Lake Wobegon.
Phil, this is the 5th installment of “Don’t Hug Me.” The last one was “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant.” Gunner and Clara are married…So, is this some sort seven-year itch take on the series? What is this installment about?
In Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married, we have a double wedding. Gunner and Clara are already married and had a baby in Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant. I don’t want to give away who’s getting married to whom, but we have a visitor come to town, Gunner’s twin sister Trigger (played by Gunner). Trigger is looking for a man and thinks she’s found one. At the same time the double wedding is being planned, Gunner and Clara have a competition on who can be the better spouse. The stakes are high in the competition, and the marriage might be derailed by the loser.
Where did the idea for this one come from?
In the first four installments of the Don’t Hug Me series, Bernice, the pretty waitress, is falling in love, but she never gets married. It was finally time in the series to have a wedding. It was the next natural step to take in the series. But this is not your typical wedding.
Have you gone through the same development process you have used in the past?
Yes, I did 12 staged readings in theaters across the country. That’s about the same number of readings I’ve done with the other Don’t Hug Me’s.
Are you willing to share what that process is?
I do readings in theaters that have done the other Don’t Hug Me musicals. After the readings I take comments from the audience and make changes to the script based on their comments. One question I ask the audience is, “What took you out of the play?” In other words, was there anything in the play that didn’t make sense or didn’t ring true to the characters. I don’t tend to ask what they like about the play. That’s a little self serving and doesn’t help me to make it better. Their response during the show tells me what they liked about it. I intentionally try to write audience pleasing plays and musicals. I think listening to the audiences comments and doing re-writes after the readings has been very helpful in the commercial success of my plays.
I know your brother lives in Minnesota and you live out here in California, I’m wondering does your brother ever come out to help you fix things that aren’t working? And, how do you go about working on the music and lyrics for the shows?
My brother, Bear, is very talented at composing music. He’s also a very busy medical doctor in Chaska, Minnesota. He doesn’t have time to come to California to work on the music. He composes the music from home and emails the music sheets to me in a program called Finale. He writes the music first, then I listen to the music over and over and write the lyrics to the music. If something doesn’t work, we email or talk about it over the phone and then he makes adjustments. It works very well.
When the shows go into rehearsal what is your relationship with the director? Has Doug Engalla directed all of five of the world premiere Los Angeles productions of “Don’t Hug Me?”
Doug has directed three of the Don’t Hug Me’s; A Don’t Hug Me County Fair, Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant and Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married. I really like working with Doug. We have a very good collaboration. Doug is very open about my thoughts during the rehearsals and I’m always happy with the way the Don’t Hug Me’s are staged. Plus, Doug is a really nice guy who always keeps cool and calm and I’m a little more high anxiety, so his personality works well with mine. It’s a good fit.
What do you see as the future of the series? (Is there a time when we’ll see “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Retired?”)
I have one more Don’t Hug Me that I’ll write, and that might be the last one. My first play, Crappie Talk, takes place in a little town in northern Minnesota. It was the precursor to the Don’t Hug Me series. I will adapt Crappie Talk into a Don’t Hug Me musical.
I noticed on the Don’t Hug Me website that you have the Midwest premiere of the play coming up in the near future. Besides this play, what else are you working on in regards to your writing? (if you feel comfortable talking about it)
After Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married opens at the Group Rep Theatre Oct 3, it opens in the midwest premiere in Plainview, Minnesota on October 23rd, then it opens in Wisconsin in November, then will continue to play from there. Many theaters do all the Don’t Hug Me musicals.
Other than Don’t Hug Me, I’m writing a play about Kahlil Gibran, the man who wrote The Prophet. I’m looking at a Fall 2015 opening of Gibran. After that, I’ll write another Mom’s Gift type of play, a family dramedy. Then I’ll write the next Don’t Hug Me musical.
Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married
October 3 – November 15
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; Sunday Matinees at 2pm
Tickets: $25. Seniors/Students: $20. Groups 10+: $15
Buy Tickets: www.thegrouprep.com or 818.763.5990
Lonny Chapman Theatre 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601