Olivia Bulis as “Annie” in 2014.

Former Big Sky Annie back as “orphan therapist”

In her most recent theater program bio, Big Sky’s Olivia Bulis smiles confidently and tells the world she’s “thrilled to be on The Ellen Stage for the first time.”

A holiday run of the Broadway classic “Annie” recently wrapped up after 15 performances, and the eighth grader at Ophir Middle School now has two productions on her growing resume. Four years ago, when Big Sky Broadway brought a group of fourth through eighth graders together and staged “Annie,” Olivia played the title role, belting out “Tomorrow” in a red wig. 

On stage at The Ellen over the past few weeks, Olivia has played the orphan Duffy while two young actors from Bozeman shared the starring role, rotating between performances.

Around 100 girls tried out for parts, so Olivia survived a selective audition process to make the cut. She and the other nine orphans settled on the number 82 to represent the girls who didn’t make the cast. So before performances at The Ellen, the orphans said “Let’s do it for the 82” before going on stage as a way to honor all the young performers not selected. 

Olivia, her mother Ania and brother Tate—an Ophir fifth grader—were spotted at a cast party on Dec. 17, held in the foothills just outside Bozeman near Bear Canyon. The Bulis family has a home in Bozeman, so that made the back and forth easier to manage. But there was one close call when traffic slowed down in Gallatin Canyon, causing Ania and Olivia to worry about missing the curtain call. 

“Last week we were coming in and there was an accident in the canyon. It looked like people got out of the accident fine. Which is always a blessing. But that canyon can be a treacherous trip in winter,” recalled Ania, who wrote for the Lookout back in the 1990s. She’s now a VP of sales and a founding broker at The Big Sky Real Estate Co.

Olivia said she made it to the show in time, and that, “I enjoy driving back and forth because I get to talk with my mom and spend time with her. Right now, I’m looking into auditioning for some camps this summer like Interlochen.” She’s also in search of other opportunities in locally produced plays and Montana State University student films.

Even with “Annie” now wrapped, the trips into Bozeman will continue while Olivia dances with the Montana Ballet Company. 

“I appreciate being able to come up to Bozeman,” said Olivia, who in the past has played Lumiere in “Beauty and the Beast” and Ariel in “The Little Mermaid.”

After her last performance as Duffy—an orphan whose signature moment on stage involves stomping on Miss Hannigan’s foot—Olivia hugged and celebrated with the rest of the “Annie” cast. That included this writer’s 10-year-old daughter Lily Madison, who teared up as she clutched Olivia. It was the end of a long, hard-knock run, with parents picking up their kids after 10:30 p.m. on school nights. But for Lily at least, life in the orphanage with Olivia was something she wanted to hang onto for as long as possible. 

Lily referred to Olivia as “the orphans’ therapist,” saying the older, wiser actor from Big Sky was always ready with supportive words of encouragement. 

“She was the ‘mother orphan,’” said Lily. “She’s a wonderful actor and I look forward to seeing her in other productions.” 

—DM

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