Q&A: Summit High School grad finds direction at University of Colorado-Boulder
A Summit County graduate with little to no theater experience coming out of high school is fresh off directing her own play at the University of Colorado-Boulder and stands ready to continue her studies in London next fall.
Paige Canepa-Olson is a fifth-year senior at CU. She admittedly didn’t participate much at all in theater-like activities while she was growing up here in Summit County — attending school at Carriage House, Breckenridge Elementary, Summit Middle and Summit High School — but her late entry into the field hasn’t stopped the 22-year-old from becoming deeply involved in various productions as she works her way through college.
Last week, Canepa-Olson even directed a production, “Fefu and Her Friends,” which was originally written by Maria Irene Fornes and featured an all-female cast. The play opened Wednesday and wrapped up Sunday.
Canepa-Olson expects to earn her bachelor’s degree in performing arts from CU in May, and she has been accepted to attend grad school at Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts at Birkbeck University in London in the fall.
The Summit Daily News caught up with her in between play performances last week to reflect on the play, talk how she got into to theater and consider how growing up in Summit County affected her growth and development as an individual.
Summit Daily News: What was it like working with an all-female cast?
Paige Canepa-Olson: It’s been wonderful. It’s been a really cool opportunity just to get to work with an all-female group. In the fall, I was in an all-female version of “Twelfth Night” directed by (teacher and producer) Lisa Wolpe, and that was the first time I’d ever been in a theatrical environment in which all of the designers, the director and all of the actors were female.
I think it’s sad that’s the first time I’ve ever experienced that, but I’m hopeful that women in the industry will be able to experience that more in the future. So it was really great just to get to foster that kind of environment for all of these girls. We had a very supportive environment, and we learned a lot together. As a director, it was cool to be able to steer the ship, if you will, but (the actresses) brought a lot of wonderful, wonderful work to the table so that helped a lot.
SDN: Your mom told us you didn’t participate in the performing arts at all in high school, but you’re directing now. How does that happen? How did you get into theater?
PCO: Yeah, it all happened so fast. In elementary and middle school, I was fortunate enough to get see a lot of theater down in Denver … but I never participated. It was something that I always loved, but it never worked out for my schedule. I took a couple little theater classes here and there, but I was involved in so much — and so was my sister as well — that it just wasn’t that much on my radar.
Then getting to college, I was originally going to go to school for culinary arts, but my sister went to CU. She was a year ahead of me, and I went and stayed with her for one weekend pretty early on my senior year in high school.
I just loved the community and the environment and what I got from the people that I met, so I kind of dropped everything and decided that I wanted to go here … I spent my freshman year fishing around trying to find what worked for me. I took some history classes, some film study classes, a lot of English classes, journalism. Then second semester I took this acting for non-majors class, and it really clicked for me. It just really worked.
SDN: With directing a play, in many ways you’re acting like a manager. How did you handle wearing that hat?
PCO: It’s definitely not easy, but it’s really wonderful. There’s something really cool about conceptualizing something yourself and then getting to see it grow from the first read-through all the way to the show. We opened on Wednesday, and there’s an odd moment when you see your show on opening night, because you’re almost looking for the things that you did.
If you have good actors, they take their roles and make them their own, and do wonderful, wonderful things with all of their ideas. It’s like you almost can’t tell what you gave to the production anymore. And that is what you want, but it’s really fascinating.
It’s definitely a lot of work — a lot of organizational work, for sure. But on this project, it’s been a lot more work than it probably would be in a realistic setting because I’m also the costume and set designer. I also did a lot of work in tech stuff as well, which is much more than a director would normally do. Still, it was cool to get to try my hand in all those different areas because the entire production really came from my brain, and getting to see all of that laid out on stage is really, really wonderful.
SDN: How do you think growing up in Summit County contributed to you getting where you are today?
PCO: You know, something about it was a very welcoming and a homey place to grow up. I think I could use the word “sheltered,” but it was kind, and it was close. Just growing up there, I think made me want to foster that kind of environment wherever I went. So with that kind of mentality, I think going forward, especially into an area such as theater production, it’s beneficial to want to bring people together and want to create a similar community in whatever community I find myself in.
And then, you know, the outdoorsy stuff and appreciating the areas that I come from. Every time I go back it’s even more wonderful to drive over that hill and see Lake Dillon down there. It keeps me wanting to come back; that’s for sure.
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