Even though technology in the entertainment industry is constantly improving, people continue to enjoy the thrill and drama of actors performing live in a dark theater. Theaters throughout the country closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying safety protocols. Only a handful of theaters remain open, including the Peterson Black Box Theater at Utah State University Eastern.
A theater still operating and putting on shows at this time is rare. This is exactly why freelance director Conner Wilson was drawn to working with the USUE theater department to guest direct the next play, All My Sons by Arthur Miller.
A resident of San Francisco, Wilson is the associate director of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child at the Curran Theatre. The Cursed Child is a play with ongoing performances and Wilson lives with and maintains the show in San Francisco.
He says the play is “phenomenal, a huge spectacle, and I have the opportunity to work with the best actors.” Performances have been cancelled due to COVID-19 and scheduled to resume in summer of 2021.
Wilson grew up in Houston, Texas, and attended the University of Oklahoma where he received his bachelor of fine arts degree. Wilson followed his passion for theater in Chicago, in New York on Broadway, and currently in San Francisco.
He started his journey as an actor, but his mentors saw his talent for directing and supported him in developing his skills. Wilson built his career around Shakespearean plays and loves working with classical plays, such as those written by Arthur Miller. Even though the classical plays were written and set over 70 years ago, Wilson appreciates that the ethical dilemmas are timeless and applicable to modern life.
“Miller’s plays wrestle with the larger issues of morality, family, the betterment of society and of the self. I love to visit old plays that still feel modern,” Wilson said.
Directing All My Sons takes on a drastically different set of rules than The Cursed Child. “I love working in intimate Blackbox theaters. You get to flex different creative muscles,” Wilson said. In larger productions, sets are elaborate and fixed. In a smaller theater, the actors must manipulate the space they are working in. Sets become organic, mood-based and representational.
All My Sons is a three-act play about the Keller family who appear to be living the American dream. The play is set during World War II and one of the Keller sons has gone missing in combat. As the plot progresses, human nature is explored through the characters. Selfishness, the dangers of idealism, the haunting of guilt and the conflicting values of society creates tension on the stage.
Teaching is one of Wilson’s favorite things about his career. “The students here at USUE have been great to work with. They have been working hard,” he said.
While teaching and directing, he breaks down the play with the students “moment by moment, beat by beat.” His method analyzes the psychology of the characters and he urges students to truly understand their character’s motivation. “There is justice and truth in theater,” Wilson said.
He strives to direct from a place of non-judgement and understands that every character is human. “Villains have their own stories. It is rare to have a character that is only evil.” By understanding this truth, students of theater learn compassion and empathy on a deep level.
Wilson had many mentors that inspired and helped him develop his skills and instilled a sense of perseverance. He advises students to never give up on their dreams. “You never know until you try. Write that screenplay. Audition for that role. Don’t wait forever for an opportunity to come along. Take that risk—just go out and do it.”
The cast includes: Joe Keller being played by Corey Ewan; Kate Keller, Robin Edwards; Chris Keller, Hunter Peterson; Ann Deever, Cheyann Needles; George Deever, Max Otteson; Sue Bayliss, Emma Bowers; Dr. Jim Bayliss, Patrick Paulk; Lydia Lubey, Kyra Waelchter; Frank Lubey, Jensen Otteson; and Bert, Sam Prettyman.
Brent Innis is producer/production manager/set designer; Taylor Karns, stage manager/lighting design; Hailey Haymond, assistant stage manager; Kyaera Price, sound design/sound operator; Ellie deMie, costume shop assistant; and Corey Ewan, costume designer.
Tickets are available: www.eventbrite.com/e/all-my-sons-by-arthur-miller-tickets-127780241141.
All My Sons opens on Nov. 16, and will continue the 18, 19, 20 and 21. Guests must wear masks and seating will be socially distanced.