Matt Olin breezed back to Charlotte 10 months ago with a nearly new daughter, a virtually new play in his resumé and a wholly new outlook on life.
The daughter, 18-month-old Mirabelle, keeps Olin and wife Sarah busy in their Fourth Ward condo. “The Other Place,” a mysterious drama which he developed with author and longtime friend Sharr White, is keeping Carolina Actors Studio Theatre busy in NoDa; it opened this week.
And Olin himself, at 40, has been keeping busy figuring out “the next chapter of my life – whatever that’s going to be.”
If you know the name, maybe you went to Charlotte Catholic High School with him (class of 1991). Maybe you ran into him at UNC (class of ’95) or studied with him at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, during his one summer as an instructor.
Charlotte Repertory Theatre fans may recall the managing director briefly hired during the company’s downward slide; he came aboard in 2001 and left two years later, well before it hit bottom in 2005. He was known for avant-garde ideas, too: He and Anne Lambert produced “Hotel Room,” a pairing of a one-act comedy and a one-act drama, in a suite at the Marriott on Tryon Street. (White, whom Olin met in the ’90s in New York, wrote the serious portion and later turned it into a full-length play, “Six Years.”)
But theater-savvy New Yorkers know him as something else: a graduate of Columbia University’s School of the Arts, where he got a master’s degree in producing theater, and an employee of Dodger Theatricals, first as an intern and later as a producer of shows. (One was “The Music Man,” a multiple Tony nominee in 2000.) He went back to New York in the mid 2000s to produce small shows and work out of a home office for Partners In Care, an in-home care service run by his family in Charlotte.
The Internet Broadway Data Base lists his most recent credit as “The Other Place.” The show, a play about a neurologist whose life begins to fray as she descends into unreality, brought star Laurie Metcalf a Tony nomination for best actress last summer. The IBDB entry reads “initially developed in association with Matt Olin.”
So he didn’t co-write, and he didn’t direct or produce. What did he do?
“The development process took three years,” he relates. “I had met a Charlotte woman in her 50s with early-onset Alzeheimer’s. The diagnosis threw her concept of self-identity into disarray, but she was articulate and lucid, courageously fighting off this disease. I sat down with Sharr and just talked in one run-on sentence for 60 minutes, trying to figure out if there was a play here.
“All that remains is the idea of a woman in her 50s, still in the medical field, with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Everything else came out of our monthly collaborations at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. We worked on this thing for three years: He’d give me scenes to read in advance, and I’d critique them when we met.”
Three years isn’t a long time to get a New York play on its feet. First came a closed-door reading in Manhattan, with Oscar-winner Olympia Dukakis as the troubled neurologist. Rewrites followed. Then came a first read for an audience in Los Angeles, with Annie Potts in the lead. More rewrites. A backer’s audition in New York. An off-Broadway run in 2012, before the transfer to Broadway with higher wattage (Metcalf, Tony-winning director Joe Mantello).
Olin’s pleased with the play’s post-Broadway life; he estimates it’s getting 20 other productions. CAST artistic director Michael Simmons acquired the rights before meeting Olin, who has limited his connection to the CAST production to one rehearsal: He dropped in to answer any questions the cast might have.
“Part of the fun is seeing what people outside of New York make of it,” he says. “It’s exciting to let my baby loose on the world.”
He’s let himself loose, too. His years as a keyboard player for the band Shadowflag are long over. His family has sold Partners in Care. Though he came back to Charlotte so his daughter could be near one set of grandparents, he’s weighing all sorts of options: producing, finishing his book about applying production techniques to all walks of the endeavor, teaching here or elsewhere.
“I’ve been recharging my creative batteries,” he says. “I’ve lived a nomadic life up to this point, and Sarah and I are used to going wherever an adventure takes us.
“Just as ‘The Other Place’ was closing on Broadway, we were loading up the car to move here. Having a daughter has made me think about my life as a series of chapters, and the next chapter has begun.”
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