The East Sider

The East Sider: Adam Olenn

The man behind Moses Brown's viral fame describes his path to making Internet greatness

Posted

Even if you don’t know Adam Olenn’s name, you’re probably familiar with his work; the Moses Brown School Director of Communications and Community Engagement was the genius behind the school’s “Let It Go” parody snow day announcement video that went viral as a big blizzard hit in January 2015. Although technically not an official East Side resident – Olenn lives with his wife Jennifer and three children in Warren – “most of my waking hours are spent here,” he says.

Olenn did grow up in Providence and attended Moses Brown from fifth grade through graduation in 1991; “I never thought I would come back to Rhode Island,” he says, laughing. His intervening years took him from UVA in Charlottesville, Virginia, to DC, where he helped consumer brands like Kellogg’s, Mercedes and Major League Baseball get online and find their place in the digital world, and then to Boston, where he worked in management consulting while pursuing his Masters of Music in Composition at the Boston Conservatory. His original plan was to become a music professor, but just as he was graduating, a spot opened up at Berklee College of Music that required the same type of branding work he had done in DC.

“Music composition actually became one of the most useful things I could have studied, because it teaches you to work with structure and to use thematic materials to create an artwork that is satisfying,” Olenn says. “Once you can do that in the abstract, then when you’re writing a novel, play, screenplay, doing video editing or creating a photo essay, the same concepts apply, but now they have a content overlay.”

While at Berklee, Olenn reached out to an old friend who was working in development at Moses Brown, and found out that there was a position available that was an almost eerily perfect fit for his skill set and experience. After a successful interview process, the Olenns uprooted their young family and moved to Rhode Island – and they have no regrets.

“Boston’s great, but I feel like Rhode Island has everything Boston has with a lot less hassle to get to it, plus the food scene is so much better here; it dwarfs the food in Boston,” Olenn says.

The concept for “School Is Closed” was born during “Music Education with Dad” sessions that Olenn held for fun as he drove his two daughters to Moses Brown in the morning. “I didn’t want to be a tyrant about it,” he laughs, but the girls kept requesting “Let it Go” over and over. During one of those repeats, the idea popped into his mind.

“We weren’t the first to do it, but we put more effort into the filming. It also helps that [Head of School] Matt Glendinning is really creative himself and is willing to risk failure – because you can only be creative when that’s an option.”

A videographer/editor and singer helped Olenn and Glendinning create the video, which now has upwards of 4.5 million views on YouTube and a global media reach “somewhere north of 2 billion,” Olenn estimates. Since then, the team has made parodies of Adele’s “Hello” and most recently Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” shot in various parts of the state and featuring a cameo by Mayor Elorza. Olenn created a 32-page report on the school in comic book format (Glendinning’s idea) that would speak to first graders as well as adults, again promoting inclusivity and equality: two values that the Quaker school strives to uphold.

If you had one wish to enhance life on the East Side, what would it be?

“It’s not just the East Side, but to put down our phones and walk outside and chat with each other in person more.”