In the Stephen Sondheim musical "Company," a young woman sums up her exit from the big city with a simple thought: She doesn't fit.
"I think there's a time to come to New York, and a time to leave," she says.
For Karen Olivo, a Broadway star — she won a Tony Award as Anita in "West Side Story" in 2009 — and television actress ("Harry's Law," 2011-12), the time to leave show business came earlier this year.
"When I get comfortable, that's when I really start to get nervous," Olivo said. "If the odds are against me, somehow ... I need a push back to do really good work. I like the scary stuff.
"Thus my quitting the business and moving to Madison. What's scarier than that?"
Madison is, to say the least, a major change for the actress.
Olivo, 37, got her break on Broadway with "Rent" just before the show won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1996. She originated the role of Vanessa in Lin-Manuel Miranda's game-changing "In the Heights" — another Best Musical, in 2008 — and spent the last two-and-a-half years in Los Angeles working in television.
"I could still be working," Olivo said. "But taking risks as a character is not taking a life risk. This is much more — let's reinvent Karen. Let's not spend the rest of our lives being a gun for hire."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the accolades Olivo enjoyed in New York theater made it both easier for her to work and limited her ability take chances.
"Once you hit a certain level in New York and know those people ... I couldn't really do anything I wanted to do," Olivo said. "If you want to do something down and dirty and you want to take a risk, you can't do it."
In what might seem like an enviable problem to some, Olivo had too much visibility. Even after she moved to Madison in June, websites like Playbill monitored Olivo's every Tweet. There is a tumblr site devoted to photos and clips of her singing. Broadway World recently posted a photo gallery of a benefit she performed in her native South Florida.
She was trying to stretch as an artist, but she found that more difficult to do, and her mental health was suffering. On a visit during her last off-Broadway project, Olivo's mother said she looked miserable.
"The last thing I did in New York, 'Murder Ballad,' was the most groundbreaking thing I had done in awhile," she said. "And it was hard to keep it that way. It was hard to keep it small and intimate and experimental."
The New York Times' Ben Brantley called her "smashing" in that 2012 role. But by March, Olivo was ready to announce her departure.
"I was amassing this laundry list of things about the industry," Olivo said, "things about being a woman, things about being ethnic, the pay scales, the way the unions work. So many things ... I started to be like, enough injustice, I can't take it anymore."
The move was personal, too. She had gotten her second divorce (from "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark" actor Matt Caplan), and she'd started seeing James Uphoff, a lighting designer who now works at Electronic Theatre Controls in Middleton.
Uphoff has shared custody of his two children, ages six and nine. He lives with Olivo on the west side of Madison, and Olivo has begun talking about adding to the family.
"If I'm going to have a kid, I'm probably going to do that in the next three years," she said. "Madison seemed like a perfect fit."
Since she's been in the Midwest, Olivo has explored other ways of being an artist. She's learning to throw and glaze pottery at Midwest Clay Project on Williamson Street, some of which has already been for sale on Etsy.
She's not happy with her technique yet, but she's determined to learn — it's humbling, she said.
Olivo is still acting, albeit in short spurts. She took a two-week job on an episode of "Law and Order: SVU" that broadcast in late October.
And she's still involved with the theater. This summer, she worked backstage on a local musical. She and Uphoff are reviewing high school musical theater productions with the Overture Center's Tommy Awards.
So far, she has taught two theater workshops, including one on song interpretation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she applied for a musical theater lecturer position this coming spring.
And she has a small studio of college-age performance students, a few of whom are gunning for jobs on Broadway.
"A lot of kids are like, 'I want to go Broadway," Olivo said, "because that's where all the best people go.' But I've seen outstanding work from people who are not even in the union. It blows apart that myth that to be the best you have to be on either of the coasts.
"You can do good work anywhere. You just have to have the integrity. And you can have a life — you can have your kids and you can have your backyard and take your summers wherever. You don't have to be in the grind to prove that you're the best."