Olsen explores naked truths

Courtesy PhotoStudio on a stage: Lorraine Olsen portrays an artist’s model in “Figuratively Speaking.”

In the musical “Sunday in the Park With George,” pointillist painter Georges Seurat encourages his mistress Dot to concentrate so that she will be a better artist’s model. It’s apt advice, according to Lorraine Olsen, author and star of “Figuratively Speaking,” which opens today in The City.

The solo show, an award winner at last year’s San Francisco Fringe Festival, explores Olsen’s insights from more than a decade spent as a professional artist’s model.

The Fringe production was done in an actual art gallery. This year, she is in a theater setting, but Olsen wants to evoke the gallery feeling as much as possible: “People are encouraged to draw when they enter the theater. We provide them with sketchbooks, and I’m in a pose when they walk in.”

 It’s a new world for Olsen, who has long acted but never created her own play before.

“I often say I’m an artist’s model to support my theater habit,” she jokes. “A lot of putting this together we just learned because we didn’t really know.”

The “we” includes her partner, director Val Hendrickson: “I was sort of, for want of a better term, making it up as I went along.”

The festival experience proved invaluable, says Olsen, who has also workshopped the project in New York and returns there in November.

“We took some feedback from the audience and people we’ve known and trusted, and incorporated some of those ideas,” she says.

Part of her motivation to create the play was to lend more legitimacy to the craft of modeling. “A lot of people just don’t consider what I do as a viable career. I did it full time, nonstop for about eight years and I loved doing it.”

She estimates that about 90 percent of her modeling work has been nude, and she appears nude onstage.  

She’s aware of a distinct difference between stage and studio: “The first time it came up I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, fun, I can be nude onstage. No problem.’  Boy, it was an altogether different experience for me. Then I had a character, whereas when I’m Lorraine at work as a model, it’s just me.”

Another difference, which she addresses in the show, is being nude vs. being naked. “It’s a very thin line and it can be different for everybody when suddenly you go from being nude to naked. The latter, for me, a lot more vulnerable.”

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