Alex Olsen’s internship inspires her own production

Hometown: Rogers, Arkansas

Major(s): Dance major, psychology minor

Internship title and organization: Production Intern at the American Dance Festival

What were your responsibilities during your internship? 

As a production intern, I was able to work backstage for the biggest modern dance festival in the U.S.

I did everything from stage-managing, to building sets, to creating and running light plots and more."

It was a running joke at ADF that production interns make the show happen, and it’s true. The crew was made up of only interns. There were no full-time staff, which gave us the opportunity to learn everything we possibly could.

What was your favorite part(s) of the internship? 

My favorite part of ADF was the satisfaction of knowing I played a valuable part in making the festival successful. I also loved being able to work with some incredible dance companies such as Paul Taylor, Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, Pilobolus, Kidd Pivot and the Electric Company Theatre and so many more. Every day there was something new.

What did you gain from the experience that will be valuable to you in the future? 

It was a demanding internship. I was working 90 hours a week, so the most valuable thing I learned is how to work under duress. Sounds dramatic, I know, but it’s true. I learned how to work through high stress and exhaustion, and I think that is something I can take with me into any career.

How had the classes you’d taken at KU prepared you for the internship?

Because of the dance classes I had taken at KU, I knew what dance performances needed to run smoothly, and I knew how to talk to professional dancers and choreographers about what they needed for their performances." Alex Olsen

How has your internship experience helped you in your classes?

My internship hasn’t directly helped me in my classes, but it has helped me in productions I’ve done since. In October 2017, I was an assistant under my professor James Moreno for a show in Chicago, and the knowledge I gained about ADF about dance production helped me know exactly what we would need. Further, my own show, Boundless, debuts this March 30 and 31. I built this show from the ground up, and my experience at ADF has helped me more than I can even say. I knew how to hire and speak with a lighting designer, how to set a stage, how to work with choreographers, and everything else I need to do run a smooth show.

Why did you choose your majors/minors?

I started out as a double major in dance and psychology because I wanted to be a dance therapist, but after producing my first dance showcase, I realized I had a passion for it. I dropped my psychology major to a minor so that I could put my energy into dance.

What do you plan to do next?

I just recently got accepted into the Leadership for the Creative Enterprises Masters Program at Northwestern University in Chicago! I’m really excited to move to Chicago and keep learning how to make dance happen. Someday, I hope to be a manager for a modern dance company.

What do you like best about studying in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at KU?

"My favorite thing about being at KU is the ability to create my own path. There isn’t a program here for dance production, but my professors and peers made it possible for me to make my own opportunities."

What would you tell your freshman self?

I’m not the most technically advanced dancer. My freshman year, I was always really upset about not getting cast in pieces and feeling like I wasn’t good enough. I would tell myself that physically dancing isn’t my passion, and that I need to be patient until I find it. I like to say that I love to “make dance happen.” Now, I look back and laugh a little at my insecurity in my dancing because I get more joy from watching dancers on stage knowing that I made that possible.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My biggest inspiration is my mom. It’s cliché, but she and I are extremely close, and we support each other 100%. She’s been through a lot, and whenever I face a challenge, I channel her energy to get through it. I honestly don’t know anyone with a relationship with their mom like I have, and every day I’m reminded how lucky I am to have her.

Could you tell us a little about the show you are putting on here at KU?

With pieces about issues from the #MeToo movement to individuality to support systems, Boundless covers a wide range of women’s issues. This show is also set in the round, which is a first for the dance department. It’s been a challenge communicating this concept and making sure choreographers create accordingly, but the result will create a unique, intimate space.

More on Boundless.

Be like Alex, check out the KU Department of Dance