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Arts and Entertainment

‘Peter Pan’ star Renee Welsh Noel lives and thrives with lupus
Lead role in Children's Theatre of Charlotte debut
Published Wednesday, September 11, 2019 10:00 am
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Renee Welsh Noel as Cheryl in “Stick Fly” at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte. She plays the lead role in Children's Theatre of Charlotte's production of "Peter Pan" Oct. 4-Nov. 3.

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Living with lupus has not stopped Renee Welsh Noel.

The Northwest School of the Arts and UNC Charlotte alumna makes her Children’s Theatre of Charlotte debut as Peter Pan on Oct. 4 at McColl Family Theatre, which kicks off their 72nd season. She always had the desire to perform, which she combines with chronic illness advocacy, as well as her passion for showing black children what awaits them on stage if they desire the life of a performer.

“The best way to explain it is like being allergic to yourself,” Welsh Noel said. “My immune system cannot decipher between healthy tissues and negative pathogens, so it just attacks everything. I take a lot of medications. I have to take a lot of preventative measures, get a lot of sleep, drink a lot of water —things like that — to maintain a pretty regular, normal life.”  

Welsh Noel’s diagnosis came at age 16 after the disease resulted in a coma, extensive bed rest and a great deal of patience as she relearned how perform daily tasks.

“I got pretty sick, and it was to the point where my mom was like, ‘I need to take you to the emergency room. I think you’re dying,’” Welsh Noel said. “It was just in time. I had heart failure. I had a lung collapse. I had kidney failure. I was in a coma for six days. I was in the hospital for about three weeks, and then on bed rest for an additional six weeks. Had to go through physical therapy, relearn how to walk, how to dress myself, and then about a month later I had kidney biopsy, which led to my diagnosis.”

Living with chronic illness does not mean Welsh Noel’s life has been placed on hold. She teaches 9- to 18- year-olds modern, jazz and tap at the Charlotte School of Ballet on South Sharon Amity Road. She will also serve as a teaching artist for CTC, focusing on dance technique for students in grades 5-12.
“I think it’s really important for able-bodied and neurotypical people to have grace when working with differently-abled people and to keep inclusion in mind when building physical and social spaces,” Welsh Noel said. “I love Children’s Theatre because they work hard at doing this from the ImaginOn’s design to our ASL and sensory friendly performances and the gracious and compassionate staff.”

Maintaining open communication with those she works with plays a huge part in her success.

“The biggest thing for me is just being honest with the people that I’m working with about what I’m going through,” Welsh Noel said. “People are usually pretty respectful and receptive, and work with me at my pace. It’s really important to me. I’m a huge disability advocate. It’s really important to me that there is more representation for people with disabilities—physical and otherwise. I just want people to know there is a life you can live, and you can succeed.”
Welsh Noel’s journey from growing up watching CTC productions to starring in one came as a happy accident.

“I auditioned on a whim,” she said. “A friend of mine (Ashton Guthrie” has performed here. He was in ‘Pete the Cat.’ … He was like, ‘this upcoming season, they’re doing ‘Peter Pan.’ They’re doing all these shows. I think you would be good for them. Do this monologue. Sing this song. You should come to auditions.’”

Following graduating UNCC in 2016, Welsh Noel took a few years off from performing.

“I went to the audition thinking, ‘I’m coming to audition for the experience,’” she said. “Then I got quite a few callbacks. I was like, ‘Wow! I’m just happy to be here at the callbacks.’”

Once she was cast, Welsh Noel began thinking about all of the required elements of the role, which she already possessed.

“I have a dance background,” Welsh Noel said. “I am a pretty low alto in terms of my vocal part, kind of androgynous in a lot of ways, and I was like, ‘wait, this is kind of the perfect role for me. I can’t believe I never considered it.’”

While she grew up on the Walt Disney animated adaptation of “Peter Pan,” Welsh Noel has also watched other film versions of the story for ideas.
“I’ve done a lot of research,” Welsh Noel said. “Actors have different rules about whether or not to watch other renditions of the role they are playing—I think it’s helpful, but I also grew up watching ‘Peter Pan,’ the Disney movie. I’ve seen the Cathy Rigby version probably 20 times growing up. I’ve seen the Mary Martin version several times. I’ve done a lot of research to kind of get into the role.”

Welsh Noel and the cast of “Peter Pan” take flight Oct. 4-Nov. 3.

“I’m most excited about flying,” she said. “I get to fly on a fly system. I’ve never done that in a show before. I’m doing a lot of firsts in this show. I’ve never done any sort of stage combat. We’re doing some sword fighting. I’m excited about that, and I’m really just excited about performing for an audience of children, because they just have this different perspective. Everything that they’re seeing is going to seem real to them. I know their reactions are going to be sort of extreme, and I’m really excited.”

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