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Actor And Singer Meredith Aleigha Wells Brings Dysautonomia Awareness To WHY I'LL NEVER MAKE IT Podcast

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Why I'll Never Make It is a weekly theater podcast hosted by actor Patrick Oliver Jones.

Actor And Singer Meredith Aleigha Wells Brings Dysautonomia Awareness To WHY I'LL NEVER MAKE IT Podcast

Dysautonomia is not a word most people know or use, yet it affects millions of Americans each year. And during this month of awareness, Meredith Aleigha Wells (Dysfunctioning Just Fine) joins podcast host Patrick Oliver Jones to discuss how this illness has affected her onstage and in life.

From a young age, Wells loved acting and singing and even playing percussion and the horn. So when it came time for her to pick a college, she knew she wanted to be in the theater department. Yet only a month into freshman year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she began to experience dizziness, digestive issues, and nearly passing out on occasions. "It was a really scary time before I had a diagnosis, because I didn't know what was wrong."

Within a year's time she was using a wheelchair and was uncertain if she'd even be able to continue pursuing her theatrical ambitions. But then some clarity came and her illness finally had a name: Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a form of Autonomic Dysfunction. When the autonomic nerves don't work properly, this can cause symptoms throughout the body like heart irregularities, lightheadedness, fainting, fatigue, shortness of breath, GI problems, cognitive impairment, and more. (Through this episode, Jones actually discovered that his own heart condition and syncope fall under Dysautonomia.)

It was also around this time that Ali Stroker was making her Broadway debut in the Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening. Stroker became the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on a Broadway stage and provided an example to Wells that being an actor/singer was still possible and within her abilities. "It's good to see authentic representation onstage, and I think she really is a trailblazer."

Wells became a trailblazer herself by making UMass Amherst history as the first actor who uses a wheelchair to perform in a Mainstage production. As if that wasn't enough, she was also a member and vocal soloist of the UMass Minutemen Marching Band and got to perform in The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. But that wasn't her only time to perform in New York City. During her senior year, Wells wrote an autobiographical one-woman show, Dysfunctioning Just Fine, that focused her illness and queer identity. Upon graduation she performed her show at the My True Colors Festival in Brooklyn where she received the 2017 Purple Skies Playwright Award.

Just three days after that festival, Wells headed to Cleveland where she became a member of the Dancing Wheels Company, a professional, physically integrated dance company uniting the talents of dancers both with and without disabilities. For Wells this was an unexpected detour in her professional goals, because "becoming more of a dancer was something that happened after becoming a wheelchair user." Yet she flourished with the company for a year, touring the country and gaining more confidence and opportunities through that experience.

Listen to the full conversation below!

Why I'll Never Make It is a weekly theater podcast hosted by actor Patrick Oliver Jones and features conversations with fellow creatives about the realities of a career in the arts. Previous guests include deaf actor John McGinty (Children of a Lesser God), singer Mykal Kilgore (Motown), and composer Jaime Lozano (Yellow Brick Road). Find these episodes and more at whyillnevermakeit.com.


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