Stay Beautiful

What drew you to theater?

What brought me to this place, this environment….I’ll tell you the history of how I got into theater. I was always a singer when I was younger but in middle school the music teachers were not that friendly and not that enthusiastic so I lost that yearn to perform. Going to high school, my Mom told me I needed to do choir. “You’re such a good singer! Conor you need to do it!” I was like….no. No thank you. So then my sophomore year, one wngl4lrrostji2muqva1a_thumb_85dof my friends dragged me to usher for the musical. I sat there in the audience, and watched my friends up on stage create magic. And my jaw just dropped. And they looked like a family up there! I fell in love. I was like “I’m going to do that, I know I can do that, I will be on that stage next year.” So I auditioned and joined choir and, as they say, the rest is history. The main draw to it was….the magic. There’s a certain sense of love in a room when a family, because that’s what you become when you do a show, works together to make a world come alive.

What has been your favorite part to play?

Fester (in Addam’s Family here at W&M) was one of my favorite parts to play. You needed your entire body in it, to play Fester. The walk, the hands, the eyebrows….when you look at him, he’s a shock! He was so much fun to play. Not my most-favorite show, but definitely my favorite character.

What was your favorite show then?

There’s two…I only got involved in theater my junior year of high school so my repertoire is very short, compared to others. I’ve done six or seven shows. The first time I felt like I glowed on stage was my senior year, in “Hello, Dolly!” and I was Cornelius and…all I can do is smile when I think about it. It was perfect. “Hello, Dolly!” has a really special place in my heart and then also coming to W&M last year we did “Avenue Q”. Here I was a small freshman and I was auditioning for a few things and I didn’t get into anything….but I got into “Avenue Q”. I played Nicky and most of the cast was seniors, you know? And I was just in awe. I have friends that are seniors what?! And….that was a great welcome into the theater department here.

Has theater helped shape you into who you are?

Oh my gosh it has. It has. When you get on stage you’re vulnerable. You need to be vulnerable or you’re not going to give a good performance. You need to show every part of yourself and it’s a pretty nerve-wracking thing to get up here! People out there are judges, I guess you could say? The really amazing thing for me about theater, and the part that I think makes it so special, is the fact that when you go to, say, a football game, there are people rooting against you. There are people coming to that game wanting you to lose, wanting you to fail. But when you come to a theater performance everyone out there (in the audience) is wanting you to succeed and wanting you to shine. That’s what they want! They want to come and be entertained and they want you to do your best so they can feel their best. And that’s the special thing about theater. Everybody that’s here….we’re rooting for each other. This just gives you so much confidence!

You had so much confidence on stage as Fester….

Exactly! And Fester was like bald and ugly and of no specific sexuality….The confidence makes you think to yourself, “if I can get up here and do all this why can’t I be more confident in life?” I want to shine, on stage and off. Even if you don’t have confidence….fake it till you make it! They teach you in theater, even if you’re messing up don’t show it. Keep your face smiling. You could be totally off beat with everyone else but if you’re smiling still people will think, “Oh he’s supposed to be doing this on purpose.” So fake it until you make it. You can’t be afraid to take risks, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. That’s the biggest thing. People are so afraid to make mistakes and in an environment where you’re encouraged to make those mistakes, it really filters everything else out….Making mistakes is beautiful. I love making mistakes. That’s corny, don’t put that in….this sounds like a total Hallmark card. But theater really teaches you not to be afraid of your mistakes. When you make a mistake, that doesn’t tell me who you are. It’s how you fix that mistake that tells me who you are.

There’s really that special magic when you go see a live show, because it’s almost like even if there’s not direct interaction (between the audience and the performers), there’s definitely a connection there.

Yeah! And it will never happen again. Theater has shaped me because I realize that things don’t last. In one weekend, after you’ve put months and months of work, it’s all done. You’ll never be with those same people, in those same costumes, with those same lights again. So it really makes you honor, appreciate, and love what you have now. It may not last, but the beauty is that it’s here right now.

When you move on from W&M, you’ll be bringing this theater experience with you….where do you want to go from there?

That’s a really good question! There are so many dreams that I have…I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I would love to go to a theater education program for my Master’s degree. Be a high school theater teacher. I didn’t have theater in high school, there was no theater department….the musicals went through the music department there was no theater class or teacher. I was not granted that opportunity. I’m also part of the ‘theater world’ so being one of those starving artist-types….you know? In every actors’ mind, even if they’re not pursuing acting anymore, there’s always that idea of “maybe I’ll make it big one day, maybe I’ll be that star!”

I think the starving artist thing is pretty brave because you’re choosing to do what you love with your life, and there will be a lot of sacrifices that come along with that but it’s worth it.

In our pre-show tradition, for “Kiss Me, Kate”, I was Paul, and one of the seniors said, I’m paraphrasing of course, “The worst thing in life is if you wake up in the perfect home, next to your perfect spouse, in the perfect bed, in the perfect town, in the perfect country on Earth. And you get in your perfect car and drive to the perfect job….but you don’t love it. That’s the worst thing that can happen to you in life. The best thing? You’re on a shitty futon, in a friend’s’ shitty apartment, in a shitty city, but you’re doing what you love. So do what you love.”

Let’s see…

Do we only have to talk about theater?

No! We can talk about anything you want.

I mean, I love theater, I just declared my major the other week!

Congratulations! Now….you can draw from anywhere for this it doesn’t have to be from theater, but what piece of advice would you give to anyone who asked?

That’s a really big question. That’s a big one! It has so much weight behind it….

Take your time.

Yeah, please. The way I say goodbye is I say, “stay beautiful”, and I don’t mean like put on makeup and do your hair nicely, if that makes you feel beautiful. I say “stay beautiful” meaning inside and out….so this is my advice. Stay beautiful. Be kind, be open, be honest, be thankful, stay beautiful.

Everyone I’ve ever met that knows you says you are the kindest person they’ve ever met, and I have to say they’re right.

I try to be kind. There were a lot of people in life that were not kind to me. There were a lot of people in life who hurt me. And…I didn’t have the easiest childhood. My parents’ divorced when I was four. I was bullied in middle school for my weight. I was abused by my father, my own Dad. And for so many years I was so angry. So angry at these people and at the world and I had that sort of “why me?” syndrome like why couldn’t I just have a normal family and a normal life, why couldn’t I look better, why couldn’t I be….normal? One day I just snapped and realized that this anger was getting me nowhere. What does that anger do for me? Anger can be a very destructive force. It ate me up. Being angry at my Dad, being angry at my parents’ divorce, how I was treated, got me nowhere. So I vowed that I would never, ever, make anybody feel the way that my Dad made me feel or the way that other people made me feel.

So when you find your family and that magic on stage, that’s kind of what drives you to say “this is where I belong, this is what’s for me”?

Yeah. It makes you feel comfortable and safe. You can’t be happy if you’re not safe. Authentically happy. If you’re not safe, you’re not going to be comfortable enough to be happy. And I feel safest on stage. It becomes a home. And I guess I was searching for that? If you want to psychoanalyze why I got into theater…

We all search for home in our own ways.

We do.

And your home is here on the stage….which is fortunate for you because you’re so wonderful at it!

Thank you! Ugh I don’t like being complimented…..actually I do but I just say that because it’s polite.

What about a lighter tone? Describe your best friend.

My best friend? My best friend in the entire world, her name is Tal. She was the person who taught me that the best way to learn to trust, is by practice. For gods’ sake my own Dad broke that instinctive trust with me so I have trust issues. If the world needs to know that they can know that–I have trust issues! I don’t trust easily….it takes a long time. But in a time of need, when I needed her in high school, and I was just looking for something, I trusted her. I had an instinct. I go a lot on instinct, I trust my gut a lot. Maybe it’s because I’m a Virgo but it’s all about instinct and being grounded in your stomach. Tal taught me that trust is something that must be earned but also that if you want to trust more, you need to just trust. You need to be vulnerable. You have to open yourself up to being vulnerable, and you’re going to get hurt. I don’t like getting political so this isn’t meant to be (a political statement) but a lot of people have the need to be protected and sheltered all the time. But the world is going to hurt you. People are going to hurt you and that’s okay. It’s part of the fabric of how you go through life. You can’t always be treated nicely. You’re going to be hurt, and sheltering people from that is not doing them any good. You have to trust and you have to make yourself vulnerable and you’re going to get hurt! I know it’s scary. That’s why people don’t trust. That’s why people don’t make themselves vulnerable. It’s because they’re afraid to get hurt. But you’re going to get hurt in your life. She taught me how to trust. I can just be ‘off’ with her, I can be comfortable with her. She’s real, she’ll tell me the truth, she’s honest. I really appreciate that. My best friend at school, his name is Stephen. He’s my brother in SAE, and he is very similar to Tal. And I can just be ‘off’ with him, I can be vulnerable with him.

So they give you that magic feeling without having to be on stage?

That’s a good way of saying it….Yeah! The same magic feeling of being on stage….and they’re very different but they’re very similar in a lot of ways, Stephen and Tal. Of course….my mom. I owe a lot to my mom. I do. The amount of sacrifices she made for me….to be where I am right now. I owe a lot to her, I literally owe my life to her. And I should treat her better, I should call her more….I’m a terrible son!

We all should though… If you could say one thing to your mom right now, what would that be?

I miss you! No I’m kidding… A simple thank you. Really, just thank you. [“Use your manners–a simple thank you will do”.] Thank you for…everything. Now I’m thinking about my grandma…I miss my grandma. She died in my junior year of high school. And she was like a parent to me actually because after the divorce I moved in with my grandma. My mom and my grandma are nurses so I guess that’s where I get my caring qualities from. My nurturing aspect of me. And my grandmother was so honest, so real. I definitely, from them, I get my caring attitude. Their job is to care for people, I mean they’re nurses for gods’ sake! From them I realized what a touch can do. What a hug can mean. Sometimes you don’t need to say things. You just need a hug. My grandma said that nursing is about the touch, it’s about the hugs. And…I live my life like that now!

It’s very obvious to me, from even just the moment that we first met, that you’re overflowing with love.

Love is very important. Love is so important. Must I explain why? Everyone has their shit! Don’t add to it.

That’s a great attitude….I’m going to cross stitch that on a pillow.

Yeah! “Everyone has their shit, don’t add to it.” That’ll be the quote.

A lot of people struggle with this question but here goes….what would you say is your favorite thing or your best thing about yourself?

Shit. About myself? I love myself. Just as you love other people you have to love yourself. There are so many things I love about myself!

That’s amazing though. You could just say “I love everything about myself”.

Well I don’t…we won’t go that far! I love that I have a quality about me that makes people feel comfortable and safe. I know how it feels to be feeling worthless. Someone made me feel worthless and I know that feeling and it is the worst feeling in the world. And I love that I am able to make people think they are worthy. That they are worthy enough to be who they are, that they are worthy enough to live, that they are worthy enough to do what they want to do. I love that I have this ability to make people feel worthy. Because everybody is worthy of something. Everyone is worthy of being a person and I’m really happy that I can sometimes allow people to see that.

I’m speechless…and if you knew me you would know that it’s a very rare occurrence.

Ask me more questions, I love when people ask questions about me!

Okay….what brought you to William & Mary?

I don’t know. Actually I do know. I do a lot of things by gut instinct, I have a really good instinct. I visited here my junior year of high school, we did a choir competition here, my mother was a chaperone. She saw the campus and said, “Conor you have to go here it’s amazing!” I said….no. I wanted to see another college in North Carolina, later on, and she said “I’m not driving all the way down there and only seeing one school so we’re going to see William & Mary.” I said fine. And I stepped on campus and I felt a sense of belonging. A sense of safety and home. That’s what drew me to William & Mary. A sense of belonging.

I love that feeling. And then it sucks when you find people on campus who don’t have that feeling.

Ugh it sucks! It’s the worst! I just want them to be happy.

Ask me more questions about my life…I’m better at focused questions not vague ones.

So you said you didn’t have a great childhood….

It was rough.

But you said your mom and your grandmother were the really high points for you.

I’m going to start frickin’ crying. I’m an actor, I have all the emotions!

I don’t really want to ask you to recount your lowest point of childhood because I mean nobody likes recounting their worst moment….

It’s okay! Ask me. It’s good to ask me that question. People should talk about their worst moments of childhood.

Okay. So what was your worst moment of childhood?

I think the worst part was all the loss I experienced. I lost a lot…my father, my brother when I was really young. I lost my grandmother in high school. I lost a few other family members. But more abstractly, I lost a sense of stability and normalcy. Going to a second-grade music recital and looking out and my mom would be there, of course, my dad would be all the way in the back, they’re not talking to each other, or he wouldn’t even be there. I stopped talking to my dad when I was in the sixth grade when I was like, “he’s abusing me, Mom”. I won’t really go into the details of that. And I don’t want to seem like I have this chip on my shoulder like, “my Dad has ruined my life” because my life is not ruined. It is not ruined. Even through all the rockiness of my childhood, even with all of that, I am so thankful for it. I am so thankful for all of the struggle and all of the pain and all the tears, I’m very thankful for all those things. Because they taught me so much. I don’t want to sound like I’m better than all of it, but a lot of people our age don’t have a grasp on what is realistic. They don’t. They feel that everybody needs to be comfortable all the time. And don’t get me wrong, I love making people feel comfortable and I believe that the majority of life you should be comfortable. But you need to have uncomfortable moments in life. Don’t shelter yourself. That is not going to teach anybody anything. I am so thankful for being hurt in life because it taught me that you’re going to be hurt in life….but that’s okay. It really makes you….bloom.

….

Is there anything you want me to know about you?

Huh…that’s a good question. Like if there was only one thing to know about me?

Yeah. What is the one thing you want people to know about you?

I’m a total catch. I’m a find! Look me up. No I’m kidding….I guess that, I make it known through action, that I will never try to purposely hurt you. I will never be malicious on purpose and if I do hurt you I’m sorry, just let me know. Don’t do that shit like “I’m not talking to him!”. No no. Boys are stupid! And I’m a boy and that means I’m stupid. I tell my residents that, especially the girls. I wanted to be an RA because I have that nurturing aspect to myself….I really love caring for people. I love listening to people. I think the best thing I’ve learned while listening to people is that a lot of the time, people aren’t looking for an answer, advice, or a solution. They just want to be heard. Just talk at me, I will let you vent to me! I’ve found out that if I just shut up and let them talk, more times than not instead of me trying to solve their problem for them, they end up working it out through talking. People need to learn to shut up sometimes.

You know what’s weird? I always start conversations asking people their favorite color and I haven’t asked you yet.

What do you think my favorite color is?

I couldn’t know.

Navy blue. Color of my wedding. I already have all that stuff picked out. I believe in love. So of course, naturally, I’m a romantic! Soulmates exist and I love love songs….I guess sort of because of the situation I grew up in, when I was younger people would always ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would always answer, “Dad”. I want to be a Dad. I want that family and I want that romance, because I’m a romantic! I believe in “Happily Ever After”…I love Disney for gods’ sake! I grew up there. Mom would always bring me to Disney to get away from all the craziness of the divorce. I’m going to Disney in March! It’s like a second home.

So…because of the divorce and everything, doesn’t it sometimes make it hard to believe in true love and soulmates and marriage even?

I would assume, yeah! When you’re given a crisis, you have two choices. You’re given the choice to let it crush you or you’re given the choice to stand up and reclaim your life. You’re given that choice, and I made the choice that I was not going to let it crush me. I will not be crushed! I was taught to be kind and to be compassionate…the best thing in a person is their compassion. And it really makes me sad when people lose that. It does.

….

I feel like I haven’t been profound enough let’s get deeper!

Hmm…do you have any questions for me?

What’s your favorite color?

It changes a lot. Right now it’s green.

What do you mean it changes?

I mean it used to be blue, and then it was pink, and now it’s green.

Hmm…I’m still thinking about that advice question a lot.

I liked the advice that you gave.

What did I give?

You said…love, I think. I think that’s what you said.

What?!

I don’t know man it was a while ago, in the past! I’m in the present!

There’s so much advice to give people. Everyone has good advice in their back pocket, based on their life. Some of it is optimistic and some of it is pessimistic. Like someone who has been in a car accident because of texting and driving would say “don’t text and drive”. I guess my advice would be….allow yourself to be hurt. Allow yourself to open up and be hurt. Because man, when you’re vulnerable? That’s when it’s you. That’s when people get to see who you truly are and in those seconds of vulnerability, your character is shown. So I guess be vulnerable. I have so much advice! Here’s some more. You’re never alone. Even in your loneliness moments, I promise you you’re never alone.

….

You cannot take life so seriously. I mean….you can. But in my experience, you shouldn’t. Life is not a serious game. It has serious moments, but overall it’s not a serious game. And even in those serious moments, you should be able to find humor. You just need to be able to laugh at yourself. Once you laugh at yourself, you give yourself permission to make those mistakes, to take those risks. Being a performer taught me how to recover from mistakes. Life is just a series of mistakes.

 

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