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Merritt Olsen celebrates 10 years as executive director of the San Juan Community Theatre

Merritt Olsen is celebrating 10 years as executive director of the San Juan Community Theatre.

His first day was June 1, 2000, arriving from the Midwest where his most recent post was directing South Dakota’s Black Hills Community Theatre. Also a veteran actor and director (he appeared in more than 35 films and TV shows), Olsen brought with him a variety of skills to lead the theater through a decade of growth and change.

David Bayley, a trustee at the time of the search and board president when Olsen arrived, considers being part of the group that hired Olsen his greatest contribution to the theater.

“Merritt combines artistic credibility and arts management and is a pretty solid financial guy,” Bayley said. “His long-range vision and people skills, plus a good balance of his left and right brain, have made him a great fit for the community.”

Veteran director Andrew V. McLaglen, who was also part of the search committee in 2000, said Olsen is a hard worker — “I see him walking to work early in the morning ... and he doesn’t leave anything unturned” — as well as a good planner and communicator. “He has to satisfy lots of people — the public, the board, actors and volunteers. He has been very successful and it’s been to the theater’s advantage.”

If you’d like to share your anniversary thoughts with Olsen, send him an e-mail: execdir@sjctheatre.org

Olsen directs the credit to the board, theater employees and volunteers for the accomplishments of the last 10 years. But after he arrived, he implemented a strategic planning process that led to many of those accomplishments.

"When we got going with strategic planning, the board invested in having an annual retreat," he said. "We spent the first couple years getting on the same page, getting agreement on direction."

What followed was fund-raising for and development of the Performing Arts Resource Center, or PARC, at the Beaverton Valley Business Park, for rehearsal, set construction and storage. The Gubelman Theater began being used as a regular venue. The theater booked major names like Maria Muldaur, the Wailin' Jennys, and Leon Redbone; multiple Grammy winners Asleep at the Wheel are coming in October. The Steele Garden was developed, thanks to the generosity of Gordon Steele. And the theater is on solid financial footing.

Today, Olsen oversees a staff of eight full- and part-time employees.

And when it comes to entertainment, "We have a real strong talent pool," he said. "Sometimes, it's people who have done things professionally in some places, sometimes it's home grown. It makes me appreciate what community theater is. If you're building a set, you're just as important as someone singing in the chorus or playing a lead role. It's team play. Everybody's respected — whether you're a kid or a seasoned veteran. The atmosphere is, we all learn from each other. And in the arts, it never ends. I'm still learning. I'm learning every day."

Merritt Olsen's resume
Merritt Olsen is a veteran actor and director, appearing in more than 35 films and TV shows, among them:

Actor:
1. Into His Arms (1999) .... Blind Man
2. In the Best Interest of the Children (1992) (TV) .... Roger Bennett
3. "L.A. Law" .... Minister (1 episode, 1988)
— The Bald Ones (1988) TV episode .... Minister
4. "MacGyver" .... Minister (1 episode, 1987)
— D.O.A.: MacGyver (1987) TV episode .... Minister
5. LBJ: The Early Years (1987) (TV)
6. "St. Elsewhere" (1 episode, 1986)
— Lost Weekend (1986) TV episode
7. "Who's the Boss?" .... Man #2 (1 episode, 1986)
— Daddy's Little Montague Girl (1986) TV episode .... Man #2
8. Deadly Friend (1986) .... CAT Scan Technician
9. News at Eleven (1986) (TV) .... Radio Reporter
10. "Hotel" .... Alan (1 episode, 1986)
— Harassed (1986) TV episode .... Alan
11. "New Love, American Style" (1 episode, 1986)
— Love and the Serious Wedding, Love and Condo (1986) TV episode
12. "George Burns Comedy Week" (1 episode, 1985)
— The Honeybunnies (1985) TV episode
13. "Trapper John, M.D." .... Jerry (1 episode, 1984)
— Promises ... Promises (1984) TV episode .... Jerry
14. "Silver Spoons" .... Harold (1 episode, 1983)
— Sounds of Silence (1983) TV episode .... Harold
15. Cujo (1983) .... Professor
16. "Newhart" .... Mr. Pomerantz (1 episode, 1982)
— In the Beginning (1982) TV episode .... Mr. Pomerantz
17. "The Powers of Matthew Star" .... Male Driver (1 episode, 1982)
— Prediction (1982) TV episode .... Male Driver
18. Joyride (1977) .... Pipeline Worker

Second Unit Director or Assistant Director:
1. Hole to China (1999) (assistant director)

Host:
1. River in Disguise (1986) (TV) .... Host

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