Setting the Stage

Zach Olson in "Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play." (Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
January 15, 2018

Four years ago, Zach Olson ’18 burst onto Bradley’s theater scene as the male lead in the high-energy musical “Spring Awakening.” The music business and marketing double major from New Berlin, Wisc., used that experience as a springboard to relationships and a busy four years on the Hilltop.

“I made sure there would never be a dull moment doing what I loved,” he said. “Keeping busy allowed me to build strong relationships and have lots of valuable experiences. It’s been crazy, but I wouldn’t do anything differently.”

“Spring Awakening” gave Olson a unique introduction to Bradley life. Production staff and cast members moved to campus several weeks before classes started to prepare for opening night. That time allowed Olson to get familiar with campus, prepare for college life and make friends.

Theater faculty and majors embraced him from the beginning even though he wasn’t formally under the department’s academic umbrella. Older students became valued friends and mentors, who then became professional contacts as they graduated into the workforce.

“I owe a lot of my campus involvement and personal skills to those first weeks,” he said. “That was one of the best ways to start college. It was nice to have friends and mentors right away.”

Olson credited theater department chair Scott Kanoff and the first cast for time and effort invested in his first musical. One show led to another, and he’ll graduate with six acting credits including musicals “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play,” “High Fidelity: A Rock Musical” and “Little Women.”

“I was lucky so many people had faith in me,” Olson said. “Scott took a chance on me. He told me everyone was rooting for me. I needed a lot of help to learn the script and acting challenges, but it was an experience I’ll never forget.”

The actor found bright lights away from Meyer Jacobs Theatre’s stage. Following his first love of music, he joined Bradley’s chorale and chamber singers. Travels with the music department took him on tours to Denmark and across the U.S. He also learned comedy as a member of BBQ Kitten, Bradley’s student-run improv group.

Theater, music and business interests intersected in the classroom, where Olson eyed a career in music or entertainment marketing. Hours in the spotlight built confidence to succeed in the business world, which values relationships and nimble thinking. Internships with Peoria Children’s Choir and a suburban Milwaukee marketing company showed potential career avenues.

“Business wants people who are creative and marketing is about connecting with people,” Olson said. “Anyone in theater can be successful in business because they understand people, communication and teamwork with a creative flair.”