Meredith Wells '17 shines in original one-woman show
By Mary Margaret Hogan '18 | Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Mary Margaret Hogan '18
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
On October 13th, UMass student Meredith Wells opened her one-woman show, Dysfunctioning Just Fine, in the Curtain Theater with a sold-out run. As a Musical Theater major within the Bachelor's Degree with Individual Concentration (BDIC) program, Meredith’s curriculum includes music, dance, and acting classes, so it was no surprise that Meredith took advantage of her craft when inspiration struck. “The idea came to me about a year ago when I couldn’t fall asleep. I thought to myself, ‘Hey, I have had a lot of crazy things happen to me in the past few years; I should write a musical about it,’” she laughed. The next day she recruited girlfriend Kate Robarge, a Music Education major, to write the music to accompany her text, and their creative process flourished from there. Last semester, Professor Sheila Siragusa assisted Meredith with her piece as a part of an independent study, with the ultimate goal of having it ready for production this semester.
Dysfunctioning Just Fine encapsulates Meredith’s journey of being diagnosed with dysautonomia, a medical term that describes a various conditions that affect the autonomic nervous system, as well as her coming to terms with being disabled in an able-centric profession. “I decided that I wanted to put my show up during Dysautonomia Awareness Month because I’m always thinking about how I could spread awareness and I how I could do it in creative way,” she said. “I’m just so pleased that I could put this piece on the stage as my contribution.”
In the intimate performance, Meredith expressed her gratitude for her partner, Kate, as her continuous support system while she delivered monologues in the form of letters between the two. The final letter incorporated in the piece is particularly special to Meredith. “I felt like I was in limbo prior to this letter exchange, but this scene displays me finally letting go and asking my girlfriend, ‘can we have a party to celebrate this new part of my life?’” she explained. “It’s in that moment that I find empowerment through identifying as disabled.”
Throughout the show, she frequently addressed the audience about the misconceptions of being disabled and the difficulties that come with such definitive labels being bestowed upon her. Audience members participated in placing these labels (such as “gay,” “short,” and “deaf”) on the actress as she remained still, allowing all to brand her clothes. Perhaps the most powerful scene of the piece included Meredith creating chalk-drawings solely using her wheelchair. Like the show itself, the art on stage displayed that her artistic prowess is unlimited and should never be doubted.
Meredith, a veteran actress to the UMass stage, explained that this role was like no other she had encountered before. “I am one to be very into ‘getting to know’ my character and becoming immersed in their world. What’s their favorite movie? What kind of music do they listen to? But with this show, I know every little aspect about this character because it’s me,” she explained. Writing and starring in your own original piece is enough pressure alone, but Meredith explained the load was lightened with her incredible creative team. “Once the writing was done, I had to step back into just being the performer,” she said. “Kate took the role of musical director, and I chose Miguel Angel Paredes as my director. I trust them as collaborators, and that’s why I brought them on this project.”
With the show closing to a standing ovation, it was clear that Meredith Wells has a bright future ahead of her in the performing arts. As for post-graduation plans, Meredith remained humble. “I’m not exactly sure what the next step is, but I know what I want out of musical theater. I want to work with people who are excited and passionate about working with people with disabilities,” she said. “I want to take jobs that let me travel and nourish me as an artist. And I want to continue using theater as a platform for spreading awareness of dysautonomia and people with different abilities.”