Emersen Conner. Photo Provided.
Emersen Conner. Photo Provided.
Emersen Conner is a senior at Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, but she’s been a part of the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts in Warsaw for about seven years.

In this weekend’s Wagon Wheel Jr. production of “Pirates of the Amazon: The Treasure of Mystery Island,” the 18-year-old plays Captain Jenny Silver.

“She’s this really cool, really extravagant pirate captain. She’s the daughter of the infamous Long John Silver, and she’s really cool. She’s a great sword fighter. She’s really sassy, she’s really powerful and she knows what to do,” Conner said in an interview Tuesday.

In the story, Conner said her character commandeers a ship “so now they’ve got all these upper-class enemies. There’s a mutiny. There’s a certain Broadway-themed mermaid. They get stranded on an island. It’s pretty crazy.”

Conner’s interest in Wagon Wheel Jr. and performing began back in elementary school.

“Well, it’s kind of an interesting story,” she said. “Our middle school, back in Fort Wayne, every year they’d go and take all the seventh-graders on a field trip to see the Christmas show. So, I was in fifth grade and my older sister was going to see ‘The Sound of Music,’ and she was really annoyed. She really didn’t want to go. Then she saw it and she loved it and she loved it so much that she made our parents buy her tickets to see it again.”

Conner had been taking singing lessons, and her family encouraged her to get involved with a show at the Wagon Wheel because “it’s so good.”

When the next Wagon Wheel Jr. show came along, Conner tried out and has been doing it ever since.

Artistic Director Scott Michaels said Conner has grown up at the Wagon Wheel. She’s interned with the summer company and been on the stage in the professional shows during the summer.

“She’s going to college to pursue this as well,” he said.

Conner said she was not sure yet where she’ll go to college this fall to study theater and gave the Wagon Wheel credit for cultivating a love for theater in her.

“Pirates of the Amazon” has a cast of 16. Conner said there’s many new faces in the cast for her, but she also hasn’t been at the Wagon Wheel since fall 2019, not including the summer camp in 2020.

“So it’s been a while. There’s a lot of new faces, there’s some old faces. It’s a great mix,” Conner said.

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down most live performances for the past year, but Conner said it’s fun to be back performing.

“It’s different because we all can’t really interact because we’re so spaced out, but it’s just great to be back,” Conner said.

Along with improving on her acting skills, she said Wagon Wheel has provided her with a sense of professionalism. With the shortened time frame – two weeks – of learning a show, Conner said, “You’ve got to learn to work hard and work smart. So, professionalism.”

“Pirates of the Amazon” is a play, but Conner said there are some sea shanties in the show.

“We’ve incorporated some music into it, yes,” Michaels said.

Conner said she gets to start a sea shanty.

“It’s just a fun time to be a part of – there’s romance, there’s action, there’s comedy. My favorite part is there’s this big sword fight between the Captain and Sir Roderick Betterton,” Conner said.

Betterton is played by Alek Fehlmann, according to the Wagon Wheel website.

Conner said the way that Michaels taught the sword fighting was more like choreography. “That made it a little easier,” she said. “It’s still with swords.”

So who is the villain in the show? Michaels said it’s not the Captain or Betterton.

“The villain turns out to be somebody else. There’s a twist,” he said.

“But I can’t tell you,” Conner said. Audiences will have to go see the show for themselves.

“It’s fun for the whole family and performances are coming up this weekend,” Michaels said. “Limited seat, of course, and social distancing, so get your tickets early.”

Dates and times for “Pirates of the Amazon” are 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. All tickets are $12 and may be purchased at wagonwheel.org; calling 574-267-8041 or 866-823-2618; or at the Wagon Wheel box office, 2515 E. Center St., Warsaw.

“It’s a swash-buckling adventure for the whole family,” Conner said.