Holiday season

Meredith Aleigha Wells Breaks Borders This Holiday Season

Chicago-based dancer, actress, singer and writer Meredith Aleigha Wells dreamed of a career in the arts from an early age and landed at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to pursue that dream. It was there, however, that Wells (who uses the pronouns them / them) was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a form of autonomic dysfunction, which ultimately required them to use a wheelchair. While a debilitating illness might have forced Wells to give up their performance aspirations altogether, they instead say their disabilities have reinvigorated their craft and made them think about why they want a career in the performing arts in the first place. place. After graduation, Wells continued to perform at festivals around the world and even created his own solo musical, Very good malfunction.

This month, Wells set out to conquer even more uncharted territory as the first wheelchair artist to embark on a nationwide tour: How the Grinch Stole Dr Seuss Christmas! Musical comedy. The production just wrapped up its performances after performing in Paducah, KY, Charlotte, NC, Washington, DC and Atlanta, GA.

Dance spirit spoke to Wells about the challenges and opportunities they encountered while on tour.

Spirit of the Dance: In what ways does having a disability affect your life as a performer?

Meredith Aleigha Wells: Being with a disability affects all aspects of my life, including performance. During the auditions, I must take into account elements such as the accessibility of the sites, the climates of the outdoor sites and the facilities for disabled people that I need if I reserve the position.

When I learn choreography, I have to work in doubles and wear both my “dancer’s hat” and my “choreographer / master-movement-translator hat” so that I can immediately translate what is being taught in a seated position. I call it “translating” because it’s like being bilingual. I have a set of vocabulary in my language of sitting movement, and I know what every step of mine translates into traditional ballet and jazz terminology.

Once in the theater, my costumes tend to be changed and my dressing rooms are at stage level. What I have found particularly difficult on tour is that every theater is different. Some theaters have inaccessible crossovers, so my show blocking, mainly exits and entrances, changes slightly from venue to venue, depending on which side of the stage my dressing room is on.

DS: How did you book the Grinch tour?

Well: Before booking the Grumpy, I was in a kind of rut, I always had the impression of sending solid material, of really getting closer and finally of not reserving. This had happened so many times in the last year that I started to wonder if national tours were logistically possible for a person in a wheelchair, as many tour houses are not accessible. I was one step away from putting the pause button on national touring auditions when I booked this show.

I only auditioned through auto-cassettes. An initial submission of interest for an Actors Access audition led to a request from casting directors to prepare the Who Kid materials package, which included a combination of songs and dances from the show, as well as a band of dances. ‘acrobatics. I was told a few weeks later that everyone loved my tapes and wanted to explore and play around with certain options. I was then asked to prepare the material for Grandma Who. Submitting for two very different characters was really fun, and a few weeks later I got an email with the offer to join the tour as Punky Who!

DS: What scared you the most about participating in this experience?

Well: Before I landed in Paducah, KY, for rehearsals I was very nervous about taking my service dog, Scout, on tour. Because the theaters have been closed for over 18 months, Scout has never accompanied me on rehearsals or backstage. Fortunately, our producers, my cast mates, and our creative staff have all been so supportive and patient as we journey through this new territory as a team.

DS: What challenges did you have to overcome on tour?

Well: The biggest challenge for me on tour is the constant change of routine. There are parts at a more macro level that remain relatively the same (shows around the same time in the evening, three days of shows on Saturdays, etc.), but every time you change town, there are microphones. constantly changing parts of your routine, like unfamiliar grocery stores in each area, different times for nearby food, new gym equipment, laundry situations and more. Much of managing my chronic disease relies on routine, so finding ways to give myself a routine without depriving me of exploring and enjoying each new city has been an exciting new challenge.

Another challenge I have faced is that with all the flights I do, parts of my chair have been broken by various airlines. This is not surprising, considering that on average 28 wheelchairs are broken or damaged per day by airlines, but it is frustrating and time consuming to have to report to baggage claim and I have the impression of keeping the group waiting. Luckily my casting is very understanding, and luckily my chair only suffered minor damage that didn’t affect my ability to perform.

DS: What accommodations helped you the most while on tour?

Well: Having two crates for my service dog so that I don’t have to lug a crate between the hotel and the theater every day was a game-changer. One lives in my hotel room, and the other lives in my dressing room and is transported with the decor. The socks in my costumes are compression socks which have been great in minimizing my cognitive dysfunction. And it might sound like a no-brainer, but all hotels and theaters are wheelchair accessible. It’s actually not something I’m used to.

DS: What moments have marked you the most on tour?

Well: It might be a cliché, but going out on the night of the premiere and putting on this show for the first time. It was a moment I was never sure I could experience.

DS: What lesson will you learn from this tour?

Well: When you feel like you’re running out of time, slow down. I did not book this show overnight. I was not lucky. I devoted half a life to a dream and stayed consistent every day until that dream came true. Stay patient.

DS: What do you hope other artists with disabilities will learn from your example?

Well: Sometimes the way will not be paved for you. It can be lonely at times, but keep showing off anyway. Create the previous one. Continue to take up space. Keep putting disability and access on their radar. My work is always dedicated to outsiders; strong and resilient humans who break stereotypes and exceed expectations every day!

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