The AWTea with Mary – Olivia Kokmen

What does Shrek do from 9-5? Did you know Pippin also bakes a mean pie? With this series I aim to answer those questions and more as I peek behind the curtain and learn all about our participants’ experience with AWT and take a glimpse into their robust lives outside of theater. It’s time for AWTea with Mary!

In this episode, we get the AWTea from Olivia Kokmen!

MARY: Hello! Thank you for chatting with me today! Please introduce yourself, use any descriptors you think identify you!

Olivia: My name is Olivia Kokmen (she/her), and I identify as sapphic, as well as asexual.

M: Welcome! What brought you to AWT? How did you learn about it?

O: I’ve always loved musical theater and wanted to be a part of it, but an anxiety disorder kept me from taking the stage. I worked backstage for my first three years of high school, before finally gathering the courage to audition in my senior year. I ended up in the ensemble, and I practiced earnestly for the big day.

My senior year just so happened to be 2020. So obviously that didn’t happen.

I was headed to a college with no theater program and I was terrified I’d never get another chance to perform. My high school cast everyone who auditioned, and I doubted I’d make it in a more discerning environment.

I believe it was my father who first alerted me to the existence of AWT. I remember venting to him about my insecurities after the cancellation, and about a week later he sent me a link to the website.

Discovering AWT gave me another chance to fulfill a lifelong dream.

M: That’s great! I love how things can come together like that! What shows have you been in so far?

O: My first show was a Sing-Out, “A New World”. I found it a wonderful and supportive experience, to say nothing of the thrill of my first solo. My next Sing-Out, “Be You”, was also fun, but it was my first mainstage musical Urinetown that changed everything. I met some of my closest AWT friends there—who all acted alongside me in the Named Poor Ensemble. They were so supportive and patient with me.

In Urinetown, I had no dialogue and only three sung words outside of ensemble numbers—”I’m not sorry.” But I went onstage, and I belted those words, and the emotions that ran through my body were indescribable. I highly, highly recommend it.

M: I remember seeing that “A New World” performance. It was a great show! So what is your life like outside of AWT?

O: I’m currently a college student at the School of Visual Arts. My major is film—screenwriting to be specific. My dream is to write for children’s animation. After I graduate I hope to get an internship and work my way up. I also have a part-time job working at some of the biggest theaters on Broadway—which is more impressive than saying “they pay me to move barricades and show people where the bathroom is during intermission.” I do it because often they let me into the theater to watch the show.
This season alone I’ve seen MJ, Six, Hamilton, and Shucked without paying for a single ticket!

M: That sounds like a lot of fun! When do you graduate?

O: If all goes well I graduate this May

M: Best of luck! Were there any shows as a child that drew you towards working in children’s television?

O: The show that changed everything for me was Gravity Falls. When I first binged it as a preteen or young teenager—when I saw the episodic humor gradually give way into an epic story full of mystery and subterfuge—something clicked. I thought, “Yes. This is what I want to do.”

Of course, ever since then I’ve seen similarly structured shows—Steven Universe, Amphibia, The Owl House—but I sought those out specifically because I liked Gravity Falls so much. I truly believe it’s what started me down this path.

M: Very cool, I might just have to check it out! Tell me a little bit more about your childhood, what was growing up like for you?

O: I grew up with two very supportive parents: a graphic designer for a mother and a bookseller for a father. You could say I was born into the creative industry. I’ve got one younger sister, Grace. She just started high school (at my old alma mater, no less!) and she is the best artist I’ve ever met. High praise from someone who attends art school.

M: Did you grow up here in New York?

O: Yes, I was born and raised in New York City, a fact I never considered noteworthy until people I was introduced to reacted to it with surprise. I love the city—it’s so exciting and you’re never more than thirty minutes away from something fun. I could never see myself living somewhere else. My favorite place is the Theater District! I can’t think of any other place in the world so dedicated to live theater.

M: Of course I know all AWTers love theater but tell us about some of your other interests or hobbies?

O: I really love doing escape rooms! Sometimes I go with family or friends for special occasions, but more often I just sign up to play with strangers. Sometimes I’ve even come across the same people in different rooms! Escape rooms are a fun pastime and a unique experience that I love.

M: I LOVE escape rooms too! It was so great learning about you! Now lastly let’s try out some rapid fire questions! Try not to overthink too much!

  • What is something you’ve done recently for the first time?
    I started playing D&D this year! It’s super fun, especially for an aspiring fantasy writer like me.
  • What makes you happiest right now?
    Whenever I get sad or stressed these days, I look at videos of cute animals. It’s the ultimate antidepressant.
  • What superpower would you want if you could have any super power?
    If I could have any superpower, I’d want to be able to understand any language.
  • What’s your favorite stage show and/or dream role?
    I have to say my favorite stage show is Urinetown. That first mainstage musical really aroused something in me. By extension, the role I’d most want to play is any “narrator” character. Lockstock from Urinetown, the Balladeer from Assassins, Karnak from Ride the Cyclone…
  • What’s your favorite food?
    I will eat anything with chocolate in it. Chocolate chips especially.
  • What’s your favorite karaoke song?
    I don’t really have the nerves or lifestyle to do karaoke—but I do practice using CurtainUp Musical Theatre Karaoke if that counts for anything.
  • What’s your favorite dinosaur?
    …I can’t say I’ve ever really thought about it, but my favorite dinosaur would have to be the pterodactyl. Flying through the air with its massive wingspan…it’s majestic just to think about.
  • What’s your favorite way to spend a sunday? (when there is no rehearsal 🙂
    On weekends I tend to watch my favorite shows and try to write. Best shows to write to are ones that are interesting without being obtrusive. Twilight Zone is a personal favorite.
  • What’s your zodiac sign and what’s the most “sign” thing about you?
    I’m a Gemini, and I consider myself an inquisitive person. I’m not going to make any scientific breakthroughs, but I do make an effort to consume as much different media as possible. They say that’s the best thing to do if you want to write your own stories.
  • What is a piece of advice you’d give to an AWT Newbie?
    The advice I have trouble taking for myself: just relax and go with it. No matter how much it looks to the contrary, things will come together in time for opening night.