(Above: The core group of performers that make up The Non-Stop Players include (back row) Sam Koekkoek, Will Calton, Hayden Shoop, Vidar Alexander; (middle row) Siena Staunau-Reicher, Chelsea King, Henry Morton, Bella Morton, Amy Miller, Kelli Langlands; (front row) Avery White, Owen Gilbert, Emily Pocock, Madison Urban. Photo by Karen Olsen.)

By Randi Bjornstad

“Back during the pandemic” has become a familiar phrase for things abandoned or at least postponed for the past three years, and longtime educator and musical theater producer Karen Olsen’s experience was no exception.

But as with some of those interruptions, some good came out of that lost-but-not-wasted time. In Olsen’s case, it resulted in forming a new theater troupe for young actors — elementary through University — to hone their skills and take them onstage.

They have become The Non-Stop Players, a nonprofit theater organization that just opened its production of Newsies at Actors Cabaret of Eugene, where it recently accepted an invitation from ACE co-founders Joe Zingo and Jim Roberts to become a resident company.

Non-Stop’s run of the popular Newsies musical continues on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons through April 30, and it even includes the traditional Actors Cabaret option of purchasing performance-only or performance-with-food tickets.

How it happened

“When the pandemic began, I had just finished doing Cinderella with Rose Children’s Theatre, and I was in the middle of getting Oliver ready, and then everything came to a halt,” Olsen recalled. “I had met so many sweet people — I love working with young people of all ages — and we had just bonded. So we started meeting over ‘Zoom’ twice a week for the rest of the school year.”

At that point, she had a core group of seven teens who really wanted to put on a play, “so I said I would try to come up with a way we could do that and be safe,” Olsen said.

Karen Olsen continues her passion for student theater with The Non-Stop Players.

She contacted the gated community of Covey Lane, where there is a community clubhouse, “and we did You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown there,” as well as in area parks and outside at the Fifth Street Market and Oakway Mall, “complete with masks and distancing,” she said.

Still raring to go, The Non-Stop Players, aka NSP, which by then had a dozen in the cast, next took on Singin’ in the Rain.

“There were 23 parts in that show, so people had to do multiple roles — we did that musical for our own pleasure, for our families and friends,” Olsen said.

A year ago this month, the troupe had grown to 17 youthful actors, and Anastasia was on Non-Stop’s marquee.

On opening night, one of the leading actors felt unwell, and within days two members of the group tested positive for COVID-19, so the show went on for only one weekend before the run was cancelled.

About the same time, in April of 2022, Olsen knew she was going to retire after 41 years of teaching, much of it at McCornack Elementary School in Eugene, “and I knew I needed to have a project, and that’s when I decided to pursue the nonprofit.”

Then the question was, what should Non-Stop’s fourth production be?

“I had done a production of Newsies at Churchill High School before, with performers in all age ranges, and I’d always known I wanted to do that show again with a group of talented, devoted people — and that’s exactly what I have now,” she said.

So, while this is Non-Stop Players fourth foray, it includes only one of the original participants, “because inevitably they all grow up and go on to other things,” Olsen said.

Newsies a natural

Most of the 15 core members of The Non-Stop Players now are students in the University of Oregon’s music/dance and theater programs, plus several who have graduated but want to continue with the troupe.

They are joined in Newsies by additional performers, with a total cast of 27 actors, singers, and dancers.

Claire Kepple and Henry Morton lead the cast of    Karen Olsen’s production of Newsies, onstage at Actors Cabaret of Eugene through April 30, 2023.

“Even the ones who have graduated still love musical theater and want to be part of it,” Olsen said. “They all think Newsies is their dream show, and they are my dream cast.”

Although Disney movies — of which Newsies is one of many — sometimes “twist and turn history,” Olsen believes that the characterization of the era and issues portrayed in Newsies “nailed it.”

“A lot of it is factual — the character of Race, for instance, is based on a real character called Racetrack Higgins,” who was a newsboy from Brooklyn and a leader of the 1899 newsboys’ strike.

His nickname clearly came from considerable time spent at the horse-racing track, but histories of the time — including newspaper accounts of a speech he made at a huge rally — do not include his given name or what became of him after his leadership activity in the strike.

The musical revolves around a fictional character named Jack Kelly, who along with his fellow newsboys takes on publishing giants Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst when they raise prices at prices at the expense of the newsboys, who are already struggling in poverty. Aided by a female reporter, Katherine Plumber, the newsboys go on strike and succeed in their efforts.

Olsen’s interest in the plight of children in the early days of the Industrial Revolution in the United States has roots in her own family history.

“When I was a little girl, I had an aunt from Alsace-Lorraine, and she told me about being, as a child, a worker in a ribbon and thread factory, where children did dangerous work at huge machines.”

So when she first did Newsies, at Churchill High School with students of varying ages, “I had fun talking to them about child labor and the work children had to do to help their families — I gave them a lot of information about the immigrant populations on the Lower East Side of New York.”

Not only that, to help the young actors get into their roles, Olsen created elaborate back stories for the characters.

“I gave them all different nationalities and backgrounds, and I tried to impart all that information too them — that’s the teacher in me,” she said.

Ending up with her troupe on the stage at Actors Cabaret of Eugene also follows a long thread in her history of theatrical production.

“I used to be a musician for Jim (Roberts) and Joe (Zingo), she recalled. “Jim called North Eugene High School and asked if they had a pianist who could do accompaniment for them — when they had started the Fireside Theater in the Atrium” at 10th and Olive streets in downtown Eugene. I was 14 when I started doing that.

So when they contacted her recently with the offer to make The Non-Stop Players a resident company, it seemed to be worth a try after all these years.

“This community doesn’t really have a single venue that is generally available to community groups for theater and that is affordable to groups that are just trying to survive,” she said. “So this is kind of a test run for them and for us.”

It’s  Newsies by The Non-Stop Players at Actors Cabaret

When: 7:30 p.m. on April 21, 22, 28, 29; and 2 p.m. on April 23 and 30; doors open 90 minutes before showtimes for meal service

Where: Actors Cabaret of Eugene, 996 Willamette St., Eugene

Ticket options and prices: (available online at thenonstopplayers.org or actorscabaret.org or by calling 541-683-4368

Meal and show


  • Classic Lasagna Dinner and Show $55
  • Sausage Manicotti Dinner and Show $55
  • Vegetarian Manicotti Dinner and Show $55
  • Shepherd’s Pie Dinner and Show $55


  • Quiche Loraine Brunch and Show $53
  • Eggs Benedict Brunch and Show $53

Show only

  • Prime Reserved Seats $30
  • Reserved Seats $27
  • Restricted View Seats $19