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San Francisco Fringe 2016

Lorraine Olsen is Figuratively Speaking

Theatre Valentine

Genre: Solo Performance

Venue: Exit Theatre


Low Down

An art model tells her stories about how she got into the business and stayed for a while. Lorraine Olsen tells her real life stories and experiences from her career – the ups and downs, the good times and bad. It’s all here!


The stage is set with a chaise longue covered with shimmery fabric and clothes draped over a folding screen, suggesting a boudoir setting. Lorraine Olsen sits on a stool in a pose, draped in a robe, revealing her back, she is being drawn – sketchbooks and pencils were distributed earlier and several audience members are sketching. This is a clever way to start her show about her career as a model for artists.

Olsen is direct and dynamic! As a professional art model, she is composed and deliberate, uses her physicality well with expressive facial gestures and piercing eye contact. Having spent most of her adult life as an artist’s model Olsen is well versed in the fascinating background and development of this career. Like any job, there should be protection and art models have their own set of rules, including working for twenty minutes, a short break, then repeat. Another rule is that no photos are to be taken. This is a difficult rule to enforce these days with phones in every pocket in art classes and Olsen shows how she follows her own rule when a photo is taken in a class.

Voiceovers of art teachers speaking directions are peppered through adding atmosphere and reinforcing the art class concept. A fascinating story she tells us is about Florence “Flo” Allen, a legendary artist’s model in San Francisco who posed for just about every known artist on the West coast from the 1930s. She developed the Bay Area Model’s Guild and subsequent guidelines and guild rules for hiring and working with art models.

Figuratively Speaking is written and performed by Olsen, dramatized by Val Hendrickson and directed by Maggie Low.  It is a very well crafted show with a fluid timeline that is at times linear and others non-linear. Olsen is a good actor, funny, human and nuanced. She performs other characters well physically and vocally. Olsen’s rich imagery takes us on a vivid journey as she poses on the chaise, changes positions and regales us with her experiences with excellent timing.

A very interesting side of the art model’s craft is to understand different styles of poses needed for certain artists and classes, Olsen switches quickly through a beautiful sequence using her limbs and torso in a variety of angles only a professional would know. Other gems include how the art models often provide their own music when working and how to stand for a long time without numbing one’s legs!

Olsen shares many other sides of this career but you will have to go to the show to learn about them. She also shares some poignant memories and harrowing eras of her life when things are less positive. Olsen is very graceful as she demonstrates her craft, and the things an art model has to go through along the way. The last part of this show is illuminating and it is a sheer pleasure to share one hour in Lorraine Olsen’s company. This is an entertaining and moving show that will fascinate you from start to finish!