It’s not glitz or star power that makes Olivia Martel speed up when she talks about theater. “Some people are like, ‘Oh, Broadway, I’m going to be a star!’” she says with a flourish. “But you’ve got to know how to work, too.”
Though Martel breezes through the joys of theater — more songs to learn, more dances to try, more lines to memorize — she drills down on the hard work behind every show. And when Bigfork High School hosts graduation on June 2, Martel will certainly have earned her place among the 63 walking seniors. Between a schedule packed with student council, National Honor Society and attending most sports games with the pep band, she has squeezed in an impressive commitment to the performing arts — work in two choirs, in four shows a year with the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theater and two summer internships with the Bigfork Summer Playhouse.
Martel’s interest in theater began just after she moved to Bigfork from North Dakota at age 9. Before school started, a neighbor mentioned that the children’s theater was hosting auditions for the musical “Willy Wonka,” and that Martel should consider trying out. Elementary-age Martel performed a 30-second monologue and a song for Brach Thomson, the producer and music director of the Bigfork Summer Playhouse. Since that audition, she said, “I’ve pretty much spent every day with him. It’s ridiculous. He’s definitely a second father to me, for sure.”
Thus began a nearly decade-long mentorship forged through a passion for the arts and hard work with a showman’s consistency. From 13-hour days and daily choir practices, to cleaning up the theater after rehearsals and prepping for college auditions, Thomson and Martel have developed a bond that extends far beyond each playbill.
Thomson has instilled in Martel that “hard work will get you places, not necessarily born talent,” she said. “He’s taught me that if you work, you’ll get places. That’s kind of my motivation going into (college theater). I know I’m not the best one out there, by far, but I have a drive and I have a focus.”
Martel plans to bring that drive this fall to the theater program at Northern Kentucky University, a few miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio. Her path to a school schedule loaded with classes on dance and Broadway choruses is thanks in no small part to Thomson’s guidance.
She said she first thought of studying theater in college while interning at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse. She fell in love with the daily work of preparing for the stage. “Doing that every day would be a dream,” she realized, “and then I learned that I actually could do that every day.”
Thomson, with his experience recruiting actors for the playhouse and his connections to the national theater scene, encouraged her to audition for Bachelor of Fine Arts programs across the country — a notoriously competitive process that requires extensive preparation.
“[Thomson has] been my lifeline through this whole thing,” Martel said. “He’s taught me everything I know, and not just about singing and dancing and acting — about focus, and time management, and drive, and discipline. He’s taught me so much.”
“He was the one who was like ‘do it, do it, you can do it,’” she said of the lengthy audition process for college, which had her crisscross the country to schools in North Carolina, Illinois and Kentucky. Thomson provided Martel with audition materials, recorded pieces to help her practice for solos and gave directions on her monologues.
The road to the stage in Newport, Kentucky was a team effort, said Martel, impossible without support from her self-described “sports family” and friends and teachers at Bigfork High School.
“I love how caring the people are,” she said of her time at Bigfork. “My teachers and my friends are the best people...I absolutely love my teachers. They’re awesome. They’re so supportive.”
In particular, she shouted out Randi Tunnell, her band teacher, who’s “been so supportive of me. And if I have a personal problem or any type of problem, she’ll help me no matter what.”
When Martel launches into the uncertain world of performing arts and life near a (semi) big city this fall, she’ll be jumping from a strong foundation.
And while she said she’ll miss home, the call to keep up the work outside the valley is enticing. “I’m looking forward to exploring,” she said. “I’m really excited to just see new things and try new things.”
Reporter Adrian Horton can be reached at email@example.com or at 758-4439.