Whitney Sha ’17, neXus Arts

Whitney-ShaI met with my Princeternship host, Mr. Richard Olson ’65, on a bright, sunny Saturday at the beginning of Spring Break. A prolific playwright, theater director, and performer, Olson founded neXus Arts, an organization that combines music with other art forms such as dance and poetry. After we discussed our shared interests in writing and life as an artist, Mr. Olson invited me to talk with him at his home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

In preparation for our meeting, Mr. Olson sent me the script for The Bookcase, a play he wrote after graduating from Princeton that helped him get into Yale Drama School. I found The Bookcase daring and avant-garde, and I came to Mr. Olson’s apartment with many questions about both the play and his career as a writer. We first talked about his experience at Princeton in the early 1960s. We marveled at how much has changed since then (the university was still all-male when he was an undergraduate) but, at the same time, how much has stayed the same (he lived in Edwards, a building I pass all the time on my way through campus). We then talked about his experience at Yale. One benefit of an MFA program, he told me, was that it immersed him in a focused, collaborative environment with other writers. After that, we discussed neXus Arts, which Mr. Olson founded with his wife. The organization puts on various mixed-media productions, many of which are on display at www.nexusarts.org.

After we talked about Sha 1his personal history, I asked Mr. Olson about his life as a writer. What inspires him? What is his daily writing process like? Mr. Olson explained that The Bookcase and much of his other work was motivated by his desire to push the boundaries of what “art” is and what it can accomplish. His influences include psychologist Carl Jung; The Bookcase, especially, explores the complex dimensions of the unconscious. As for his writing process, he writes longhand at a round table near a window that overlooks his garden. The ambient light is beautiful there, and the view provides a pocket of seclusion in the middle of Manhattan.

Lastly, Mr. Olson and I discussed my own writing and my plans for a novel I’m currently working on. He offered insights from a playwright’s perspective, and I was inspired by his suggestions. My Princeternship was short – only a few hours over one day – but Mr. Olson and I kept in touch afterwards over email, and he invited me to see neXus Arts’ shows if I’m ever in New York.