Olivia Lampert had been dabbling in local theater for a couple of years when a friend showed her an opportunity that seemed too good to be true.
“One of my good friends texted me and she’s said, ‘Hey, I think this would be good for you. Because I’m not Asian. And I don’t think I can do this role. And I know you’re looking for things,” Olivia said. “I looked on the link and I read the little synopsis of the story. And I was like, this is crazy. I can’t believe you’re doing a show about a family in Korea. I thought it was so cool.”
Bina’s Six Apples takes place during the Korean War. Bina’s family owns an apple orchard, but they are forced to flee to Busan, in the southeast part of the country. After getting separated, she meets new characters on her journey to try and reunite with her own family, who teach her a little more about life and expand her world.
After the Zoom audition last spring, Olivia was cast as the title character in Bina’s Six Apples, a world premiere show at the Children’s Theatre Company through Feb. 13, and co-produced with Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre, where it will play for two weeks in March. Olivia’s performance has been lauded by reviews — one calling her “a young actor to keep an eye on.”
Olivia, now a freshman at Wayzata High School, was adopted from Korea by Mark and Renee Lampert when she was seven months old. Olivia has also acted locally at Blue Water Theatre Company and Stages Theatre, but those companies tend to cast actors without specific character traits. Children’s Theatre, in the case of Bina, was looking for an Asian actress.
“CTC posts all of their auditions online, so anyone who’s interested in auditioning for a play, you can just watch their postings,” Renee Lampert said. “And if they fit the characteristics that they’re looking for, they can audition.”
Olivia said that she’s seen more opportunities for Asian actresses, which increases her opportunities.
“We’re really lucky right now that there has been a good amount of plays and musicals that have come out and are looking for specifically Asian characters, which is good,” she said. “It can be really hard having the original character, being not your ethnicity, looking different.”
Embracing Korean roots
Prior to starting the production, Olivia had gotten exposure to her Korean roots. But that exposure has certainly accelerated lately.
“We spent a lot of time, certainly when she was younger, exposing her to the Korean community around the Twin Cities,” Renee Lampert said. The Twin Cities has one of the largest numbers of Korean adoptees in the country, according to the book Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging. “We’ve spent quite a bit of time building that network of Korean adoptees and exposing her to Korean culture.”
Then Renee turned to her daughter and said “But, admittedly, you’ve probably learned more about Korean culture in the last six months than you had over several years. And that really is a tribute to [your] castmates and to all of the detail that they’ve brought into the play that was uniquely Korean.”
Because of that population, at least in the Twin Cities, it wasn’t unusual that a Korean named Olivia Lampert was cast in the title role.
“If you take a look at the names of that cast, some look or sound more Korean, but many of them sound American,” Renee said.
Olivia said that five of the cast members are adoptees, and Sun Mee Chomet, her on-stage mother, is also Jewish on her adopted father’s side.
Olivia is more interested in learning about her Korean heritage now than when her parents tried to do that work when she was younger.
“I want to learn so much about my culture,” she said. “But when I was younger, I didn’t want to have anything to do with it.” But she also agreed with her mother that the experience of being in this show has opened her up to more cultural opportunities.
“They’ve taught me so much and they’ve given me so many things for us to learn more about my culture and the playwright Lloyd [Suh], when we got a chance to talk to him, gave us so much information about Korea and the war that I didn’t even know at all before,” she said. “Through this experience, they’ve just naturally brought in more Korean culture into my life.”
Balancing school, theater
For teens being cast in a show at CTC or Alliance, while a great honor, also means a great deal of school that gets missed while preparing for anywhere from six to nine shows per week.
“It’s very stressful,” Olivia said. “Especially when you’re in tech week, because I’m at the theater noon to 10 at night, and I’m getting home at 10:30 and having to eat dinner. And then I have hours of homework and then have to go to school.”
Renee said the staff at Wayzata High School have been incredibly supportive of Olivia’s theatrical endeavor.
“Through the last part of [last semester], she was basically working remotely with her teachers sending home assignments,” Renee said. The semester that just started, Olivia will be doing an entirely online program to accommodate the schedule, which will be particularly hectic through the end of March.
Olivia, her mother, and the rest of the cast will head to Atlanta on Feb. 27, giving the cast a couple of weeks to get used to the space before opening there on March 11. So far, Olivia has gotten pretty adept at finding pockets of time while at the theater to get her work done.
“If it’s a two-show day, we get a two-hour break in between the shows, which isn’t a lot of time. You need to eat, cool off, or work on blocking (the show) or get notes (on the previous show). What time I have left from all that I spend on my homework,” she said. “So I bring my iPad and work on homework, and then I go do a show. And then I come home and I get to the homework.”
Renee said that Olivia being a diligent student helps.
“When we talked about her getting this role, I said, schoolwork still has to be your first priority. You’re still a student first,” she said. “We’ve gotten really, really creative. But you know what? She really does do schoolwork any time that she’s not at the theater, and she had to own some of that responsibility. Mark and I are just there to kind of help and coach and provide support when she needs it.”