Holi’ Conway’s story
Arts and Living Editor
Holli’ Conway was completely new to theater when she first started acting at Northwestern State University. Like every other experience in her life, she tackled her newfound love for acting and dancing with a strong work ethic.
“I think I put a lot of weight on vision and seeing your dreams way ahead of time, so I’m always challenging myself to think bigger than I normally think and think bigger than my current situation,” Conway said. “So even though, yeah, I was in Natchitoches, Louisiana, a small town, at NSU, I knew that I had those big dreams so that was my motivation behind everything that I did.”
In college, Conway juggled many different passions. Along with theater and pageantry, Conway was on the track and field team, following in the footsteps of her father, Hollis Conway, a two-time Olympic medalist.
“My dad, being an Olympian, being a world class high jumper, of course I wanted to continue on his legacy, but I was not nearly as good as my dad,” Conway said. “And I was passionate, I love sports, I love being athletic, and I think the work ethic and the mindset that I get from sports has carried over into theatre and pageants.”
Conway, who graduated from NSU magna cum laude in 2016, was crowned Miss Louisiana 2018 and was second runner-up for Miss America 2018.
“Miss America was huge. I think Miss America was the biggest stage I had been on at that point in my life, and it did feel heavy,” Conway said. “I felt like I was carrying my whole state with me, and I was representing my entire state, and I just wanted to make them proud.”
Despite this pressure, Conway was not afraid to push herself.
“The song I sang, called ‘I Believe’ by Fantasia, the reason I picked that song was because it’s a declaration that I believe in myself and that I know I can do this,” Conway said.
Most recently, Conway made her Broadway debut in 2019, cast as Ikette and an ensemble member for “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical.”
“It was life changing. It was so much fun, especially because of the specific show I was in. I got extremely close to my cast,” Conway said. “I couldn’t have chosen a better cast or a better show to make my Broadway debut with. I learned a lot.”
The most important aspect of her life is to inspire others and be inspired in return. Two of her biggest sources of inspiration are Faith Jenkins and Nita Whitaker, two of the first Black women to be crowned Miss Louisiana.
“I’m inspired when little kids come up to me and say they didn’t want to do theater until they saw that a Black girl could be successful in theatre, or they didn’t want to do pageants until they saw that a girl with natural hair could compete in a pageant,” Conway said. “Breaking down barriers for me breaks down barriers for people after me, and that keeps me going.”
Although she has faced challenges as a Black woman, she wishes to use her platform to inspire other women like her to stand their ground and be who they are unapologetically.
“Every time a Black woman has a huge accomplishment, she makes it easier for women that come after her,” Conway said. “In this time, with our current Black, Indian, woman vice president, and so much more happening in the world, there’s so much going on that makes me proud to be a Black woman, and I just hope that my life reflects that.”
Yonna Pasch, who worked with Conway through the Student Theatre Organization as well as the Lady of the Bracelet pageant, is proud to watch Conway’s accomplishments.
“Of course, as a university employee, we want all of our students to leave the comfort of Northwestern State and do great things, and knowing that Holli’ left and pursued her passion in theater as a singer, dancer, she performed on a cruise ship as well,” Pasch said. “Knowing that she took what she loved, and took that to a theater in New York City, it just makes us as a university so proud to support and have helped develop the young lady that she is today.”
In the meantime, Conway has returned to Louisiana.
“A close friend of mine, Tyler Price, who was actually the creator of the Make Your Own theater troupe that I was a part of while I was at NSU. He’s currently the high school theater teacher at Alexandria High School, and he’s putting on a production of Footloose,” Conway said. “I came down a few months ago and put on a masterclass with him and helped him audition the show, and he asked me to come and choreograph it.”