When Conor Wilson ’19 first arrived at the College of William and Mary, he had his sights set on majoring in biology. However, spending hours in the Integrated Science Center isn’t what put Wilson on stage the opening night of “Metamorphoses,” introducing himself as assistant director to Elizabeth Wiley.
Wilson’s passion for theater surfaced later in his high school years after seeing his school’s musical production as a sophomore. He recalls the moment he realized that he wanted to be a part of the theater community.
“When I was sitting in the audience my jaw dropped,” Wilson said. “And I was like, ‘I wanna do that, I know I can do that. I’m gonna do that.’”
Wilson compares being a part of the theater community to being part of a family.
“Sophomore year was definitely a time when I felt very alone, and seeing people on stage performing like that, it’s a family, and I was jealous of that and I wanted that,” Wilson said.
So, when he arrived at the College, Wilson quickly found himself diving headfirst into the world of theater. Nearly as quickly, he recognized his undeniable passion for the art.
“I was cast in ‘Avenue Q’ and I kind of got sucked up into the theater world,” Wilson said. “I realized that theater is my passion and bio is an interest, and you have to go with your passion.”
Wilson said he was particularly excited to be working on “Metamorphoses” because he grew up with an interest in Greek mythology. He said that he loves the lessons and morals that the tales express.
One of Wilson’s goals for his fast-approaching senior year is to direct a show here at the College.
“In order to get approved to do a senior directorial you need experience in that field and they strongly recommend being an assistant director on a mainstage show, so I knew that was something I wanted to do,” Wilson said. “Also, I’m really interested in directing. I think that’s definitely a goal of mine in the future and my career, to take some time to direct and travel and direct different shows in different places.”
Every director uses their assistant directors differently. In the case of “Metamorphoses,” Wiley made the process extremely collaborative, allowing Wilson to give his own input on multiple aspects of the direction process.
“So Elizabeth Wiley was the director, and she falls more into the collaborative space,” Wilson said. “She would allow me to give opinions on blocking, give opinions on costumes, lighting choices — I was able to give notes to actors.”
For Wilson, the most challenging part of his role was learning that everyone communicates differently. This is a lesson that hit as full runs began, the point at which communication is most essential. Although the learning process could be frustrating, Wilson learned how to communicate to each actor in order to get the result that he and Wiley wanted.
“Each actor is their own person and each actor has their own methods and each actor has their own way of communicating, so you can’t communicate the same way to each actor,” Wilson said.
This opportunity got Wilson excited about directing and pushed him to get serious about his application to direct next year. He describes watching the production unfold from a director’s point of view versus being a part of the cast as “eye opening.”
“I’ve learned so much from this process,” Wilson said. “I’m so thankful, and I guess I just want to get that across, how thankful I am for this opportunity. I’ve learned that I actually really want to be [a director]. I was like ‘oh maybe I could be a director’ and now I’m learning. Like I love it, I really enjoy it; I think I’m really good at it.’”
In addition to being thankful for the role Wiley played in his assistant director experience, Wilson acknowledges all of the hard work the other students and faculty put into the production.
“The set is so artistic,” Wilson said. “The set was designed by Matthew Allar — he’s a professor here — the lights were designed by Steve Holliday, also a professor here, the costumes by Patricia West, another professor here. … And then also, we put a freaking pool on stage. That’s awesome.”
Wilson credits Allar and technical director Brian Saxton for the idea of a pool becoming a reality. He notes the additional effort that the costume and lighting crews put into Metamorphoses because of the difficulties that incorporating the pool created.
“You learn the lesson [that] you can’t direct, you can’t put on a good show without good people under you and who are supporting you and who want to make things come to life,” Wilson said. “Everyone was in it and everyone was solving problems left and right, and it makes you feel really blessed and makes you feel very appreciative of resources and people that you work with.”
Wilson said that his favorite of the myths from the play is “Pomona and Veromna,” which is one that he was not well-versed in prior to the show. He believes that its moral is one that many people can relate to and appreciate because it encourages people to be who they are and live their life undisguised.
“I’ve always loved it because here’s a guy, you know, trying so hard to be someone else,” Wilson said. “He doesn’t trust in himself enough or believe in himself that without all his disguises he’s good enough. And at the very very end, there’s finally someone there who says, ‘No you are good enough, just the way you are, undisguised.’ And I find that beautiful.”
Being able to witness the actors grow into their roles and [grow] as people was one of the most rewarding parts of Wilson’s role in the production.
“There’s too many rewarding parts to count,” Wilson said. “Seeing actors at the start of the process to the end of the process, seeing them grow, seeing them become stronger in what they were doing, you have immense pride in that and you feel so happy for them.”
As “Metamorphoses” comes to a close, Wilson looks to the future. Specifically, his future in directing and is thankful for those who have helped him thus far.
“I was actually very involved and I felt very blessed and lucky that I was able to express a lot of my ideas and freedom,” Wilson said. “So I thank Elizabeth Wiley, Liz, immensely for that opportunity.”