Carolyn Conover, originally from Marshall, IL, is an assistant professor of Theatre who specializes in acting and directing. She was recently accepted into the inaugural cohort of artists for the Artistic Mental Health Practitioner training program, which consists of thirty-five individuals from various levels of professional and academic backgrounds nationwide. She received her Mental Health First Aid Certification earlier this year, and this second certification, which is the pinnacle of several years of study, is “the perfect complement to my work as an Intimacy Choreographer.”
This program, which focuses on promoting engaged, accessible, and consent-based practices that are unique to theatre and film, is sponsored by the Association of Mental Health Coordinators, an organization that “’seeks to be a global network of entertainment and mental health professionals, who are working to change the narrative about mental health in the arts by offering support, training, and standards to the industry.’” It covers all types of trauma-informed theatre work practices from navigating conflicts to conflict resolutions in creative spaces, leading to the application of practicing respectful collaboration. Specific areas of training explore practical tools for simulation and portrayal of trauma in a safe, repeatable, and respectful way. They strive to find innovative methods to raise the stakes of storytelling while also increasing actor safety.
“It’s amazing to be learning with all these artists and experts, and to continue growing my own toolbox to work with students,” said Conover.
Conover’s ultimate goal is “to be a resource for my student actors; to be the person I wish I’d had at certain points in my actor training, when ‘yes, and’ was the only option; when ‘good’ actors were always ‘up for anything’ and uninhibited was the only definition of bravery.”
She wants to use the tools she is gaining from this training to support and empower her students in the risk of the work by helping them set boundaries, make informed and creative commitments, and advocate for themselves. As theatre artists, they are telling challenging stories rooted in conflict, honesty, and vulnerability, and this kind of training promotes standards that encourage healthy risk-taking as well as regular check-ins, boundary updates, de-roling, and self-care. Although it will be a gradual process, Conover is glad awareness and these attitudes are being brought out into this field of work.
Conover has been at JSU since Fall 2020, and, this semester, she is teaching Acting Fundamentals, Directing, Voice for the Actor, and Intro to Theatre. Directing is her favorite, and she mentioned, “BTW, we have auditions for the Directing Showcase at 6:00 pm on Sunday, Oct. 30th!”
When asked about her favorite part of her job, Conover said the best part is helping her student actors challenge themselves and watching them surprise themselves by going beyond what they thought they were capable of. She also loves when the actors’ ideas and her ideas come together, making “a scene or a moment on stage work,” as she described.
When asked about her favorite part of the Theatre and Film Department as a whole, she credited the classes she teaches and the students she works with: “I also love being in rehearsal. I could be in rehearsal forever!!”
In 2020, Conover published a book called The Introverted Actor: Practical Approaches, and currently, along with the Artistic Mental Health Practitioner certification, she is excitedly preparing to direct and choreograph for Spring Awakening, next semester’s mainstage musical production.
With such a busy schedule, Conover enjoys spending her limited spare time with her fiancé.
Conover advises her students to challenge themselves and not be afraid of trying new things, saying,”it’s alright to not be good at something the first time around.”
“You might find a skill or passion you didn’t even know you had,” she said. “Don’t resist something just because it’s difficult. Let’s work to normalize a little failing… mistakes are gifts. Do everything imperfectly. BE FLAWSOME! Every new scary thing you try is something to celebrate…auditions, for example.”