The Many Faces of Actress Olivia Noel
Worthington Christian graduate is comfortable with any role she’s cast in.
When it comes to casting Olivia Noel (WC ’19), it usually comes down to a coin flip. Half of the time, Noel is cast as a princess. The other half, she’s the evil stepsister.
Noel, who plays a princess for Paulette’s Princess Parties and was a featured extra as the mean cheerleader’s friend in the Lifetime 2023 movie The Pregnancy Promise, is comfortable with either choice.
“I guess that’s my character type,” Noel said with a laugh. “I’m usually the villain. It’s harder to play a kind or a funnier character because you wonder, ‘How am I supposed to be playing somebody else (when it is so close to who I am)?’
“The other day, I went to get some professional pictures taken. The headshot lady goes, ‘I’m going to take a wild guess. You play all the mean characters, don’t you?’ I said yes. She said, ‘I hope you’re happy with that because you’re going to get stuck with it quite often.’”
Noel credits Worthington Christian theatre director David O’Roark for discovering the actress’s inner avian evilness. The director cast Noel as Mayzie La Bird in Seussical: The Musical, who bullies Gertrude McFuzz about her lack of tailfeathers. Later, she played Henrietta in HONK!, who ridicules Ugly.
“I don’t know why, but we did have a bird thing going on that whole year,” said Noel, who went on to play a murderer in another Worthington Christian production. “(O’Roark) said, ‘I want you to step outside your comfort zone.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I feel comfortable being so mean.’ He said, ‘Well, get over it.’ I did it, and I loved it.”
Being evil forced Noel to be someone she is not.
“It’s just easier to be somebody else. I’m terrible at public speaking, but if you give me a script and tell me to read these lines, I’m like, ‘Yeah, no problem.’”
Won’t Take No For An Answer
Perhaps one of the reasons Noel excels at acting is she doesn’t like to be put in a box. When she announced she would attend the New York City American Music and Drama Academy (AMDA), naysayers tried to talk her out of it.
“A lot of family members and people from my past really let me know, ‘We don’t feel like you’re going to make it in New York City because you’ll be too afraid or you won’t thrive there,’” Noel recalled. “‘You’ll just end up back home.’
“If you listen to everybody about what they thought you couldn’t accomplish, that will take you down a winding road. They’re not the people that get to decide whether you succeed in something or not.”
If You Can Make It There …
Having friends and family doubt her abilities toughened Noel up for AMDA’s program. One of the things the school did was test a student’s resolve.
“(On the first day) they said, ‘This experience is going to be different from high school,” she said. “We’re going to walk you through things you never thought about before, things you don’t even know you’re doing.’
“One of my teachers said, ‘I don’t want you to be discouraged because I will pick you apart. I’m going to break it down completely, and you’ll feel like you’re empty.”
It was not a hollow threat. Noel recollects having to sing from a character’s perspective. The professor then stopped her mid-note and said, “Stop! Sit down! Try it again tomorrow.”
Noel regrouped, tried again, and then the professor continued to pick apart her performance. By midsemester, Noel was discouraged after she learned she was getting a C in the class.
After class, the professor explained why she earned that grade because Noel was holding back during her performances.
“She told me, ‘Have you noticed how hard I am on you? It’s because I know you are going to do this.’ That was when I was like, OK, I’m in the right spot.
“There were all these discouraging times, but I grew from them. I stopped pulling back and threw out my most authentic self. Once I did that, everything changed.”
Back To School
Noel graduated from AMDA in 2022 with a degree, confidence, and no job prospects on the horizon. She admitted she felt anxious about where she was supposed to go next.
“I (prayed) ‘Oh God, I need You to tell me what’s next,’” she said. “Literally four days later, I got a phone call from my old principal at Grace Christian Elementary School, asking if I had any interest in teaching?”
Noel jumped at the chance. At Grace, she loved imparting the knowledge she learned at AMDA to some of her students and inspiring them to be authentic onstage.
“I loved to see them light up when they understood what was going on or when they thought something was really cool,” Noel said. “God told me, ‘That’s why you were there — to inspire them just like somebody inspired you. But this season is over.’
“There was that tiny–, no scratch that! It was a big voice saying, man, I miss acting so much, I’m aching. I felt this in the pit of my stomach: I’m not done yet. I can’t sit here and wonder what would have happened. I need to step out in faith and do it.”
Re-Entering Stage Right
Since deciding to return to the stage, Noel has been “auditioning like a crazy person,” sending videos to several productions.
Her biggest break came up unexpectedly from something she had posted online. Noel was part of a Facebook group where actors post pictures and resumes. The producers of the movie The Pregnancy Promise saw her post and asked her to audition.
“The Lifetime movie network called me. I thought, ‘Whoa, what’s going on? I don’t even remember auditioning for this,’” she said with a laugh.
“When I got onsite, they said, we said you are going to be an extra, but there’s a catch,’” she said. “Then they added, ‘We want you to be a featured extra.’”
A featured extra is not just in the background of crowd shots but gets a great deal of screen time.
For Noel, this meant playing the mean cheerleader’s cohort. The part was shot in three days.
After the role, doors opened for Noel. She was invited to try out for a role on a national tour of Hairspray. Although she didn’t get the part, she said, “It was amazing to be in a room with so many talented women and feel like I belong here too.” Noel went on to land a starring role in a local production of a well-known Disney musical this spring, but she can’t release the details.
Noel credits three teachers for helping her find her path. Not surprisingly, O’Roark is on that list, as well as Karen Rugg-Klapheke, WC’s Performing Arts Department Chair and former Vocal Music Teacher, who told Noel she is a soprano, not an alto.
“The third one is someone you wouldn’t (associate with acting or singing), and that is Kathy White, my math teacher,” Noel said. “I am terrible at math. I struggled with calculus when I was in school. I remember Mrs. White said, ‘This is a small thing, Olivia, because you’re not supposed to do math. You’re supposed to be an actress; it’s what you were made for.’ I remember sobbing after she said that.
“It just changes the narrative when one person says, ‘You can do this.’ Once you hear that, you know you can take those steps, even though it’s terrifying.”