The primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral history Project

Celebrating the visionaries who created New York's vibrant Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater.

Steve Olsen

Steve Olsen

Founder of the Laurie Beechman Theatre at the West Bank Cafe, Restaurateur
Born on Wednesday, February 10, 1954

Interviewed on: Friday, March 20, 2015
Location: West Bank Cafe
Interviewed by: Casey Childs
Interview #32
"So many people came out of downstairs; I’m a lucky guy."
Steve Olsen Highlights
Video Length: 6 Minutes, 4 Seconds
Steve Olsen Interview
Video Length: 2 Hours 17 Minutes

Steve Olsen is the founder of the Laurie Beechman Theatre (originally named the Downstairs Theatre Bar). The theatre is located below the West Bank Cafe, which Olsen also operates. The theatre opened in 1983 and hosted live jazz and cabaret.  Soon afterwards, Lewis Black, Rand Foerster, and Rusty Magee contacted Olsen and proposed staging plays at the theatre. Foerster became the Co-Artistic Director, Black became the Co-Artistic Director/Playwright-In-Residence, and Magee became the Musical Director for West Bank Café’s Downstairs Theatre Bar. Over the course of 14 years, they produced over 1,000 plays. Black wrote about 40 plays for the theatre and emceed each show. The theatre was renamed the Laurie Beechman Theatre in 1998, in honor of the eponymous late actress.  Olsen’s Off-Broadway credits at the Laurie Beechman Theatre include: THE NEWS (1984), DICK DETERRED (1985), HIDDEN IN THIS  PICTURE (1988), DIRTY LAUNDRY (1996), CAFÉ ESCARGOT (1996), IN THE CAR (1999), LOOK MA NO EARS (2006), THE BLACK AND WHITE BLUES (2006), and THE VAUDEVILLIANS (2014).

Olsen began working in the restaurant industry with his family at the age of 16. In 1978, when he was 24 years old, he opened the West Bank Cafe with two partners. In 1980, “The New York Times” awarded the restaurant two stars. This review increased its visibility and attracted a wider range of diners. Olsen believed that the theatre was an extremely important venue, where artists could work through their creativity and be allowed to make mistakes. The venue soon became known as a haven for artists. The playwrights Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams were considered regulars at the restaurant. In 1991, Olsen became the sole owner of the West Bank Cafe. He is a passionate wine collector and holds vinification, viniculture, and blind wine tasting certificates from the American Sommelier Association.

Mentioned in Interview

Lewis Black, Rusty Magee, Rand Foerster, Joan Rivers, Karen Finley Alan Menken, Manhattan Punch Line, Rand Foerster, Seth Allen and Wild West, Alarm Dog Rep, Tennessee Williams, Mitch McGuire, Theater Row, Warren Leight, Selena Hussein, Mark Linn-Baker, Hudson Scenic, Aaron Sorkin, Alan Ball, Charles Leighton, Randy Brecker, Steven Graham, Charles Fuller, Michael David, Bruce Willis, West Bank Café Downstairs Theatre Bar, The Laurie Beechman Theatre, NYSF/The Public, Manhattan Plaza, Playwrights Horizons, STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, THE FREE SHOW, PATCH PATCH PATCH, THE TENNIS GAME, SIDE MAN, TOMMY, THE FOUR PLAIDS