Liam Pearce, star of the new Broadway musical How to Dance in Ohio, is exactly where he wants to be. While studying musical theatre at Pace University, he secured the lead role in the musical, sticking with the production as it underwent many workshops and premiered on Broadway. This heartwarming production follows seven autistic teenagers preparing for a dance; Pearce and his six young costars are all autistic as well.

Originating his character, Drew, gives Pearce the opportunity to confidently create something new onstage every night, which he has been working towards since high school.

Finding Confidence in the College Audition Process

While applying to college as a senior in high school, Pearce only applied to musical theatre schools. “There was never really a background plan or anything else I really wanted to do.” Pace University was the frontrunner for several reasons. Pearce prioritized being in New York City and connecting with others in the industry; he also valued Pace’s ability to host masterclasses with influential musical theatre performers.

He got a taste of the school’s personality as soon as he entered the audition room. “I just really loved the individuality they celebrated, specifically in the audition process,” he says. “They were like… sing what you want to sing.” Pearce changed his audition song and sang two pop-rock songs that showed off more of his personality as a performer.

He describes the college audition process as “one of the more daunting things I’ve ever done,” applying to over a dozen schools. He recommends “putting time and effort into making [your application notes] as clear and organized as possible” instead of trying to keep track of everything mentally.

Auditioning for Ohio

In July 2021, Pearce saw an open call for How to Dance in Ohio. The call invited autistic actors to submit footage of themselves singing a song they love. Pearce submitted a self-tape of himself singing “Someone to Fall Back On” by Jason Robert Brown and received a request to audition for the role of Drew three weeks later. Pearce now marvels at how the entire cast “booked the show that would lead to [their] Broadway debuts off of Zoom calls and self-tapes.”

The cast of How to Dance in Ohio.
© Curtis Brown

The cast of How to Dance in Ohio.
© Curtis Brown

After booking the role in September 2021, Pearce and the other actors prepared for the show’s 29-hour reading, the first of numerous workshops and readings. “When I walked into rehearsals for the Broadway run,” Pearce says, “it was my fifth time having a ‘first day of school’ for How to Dance in Ohio.”

Pearce performed in the first reading of the musical as a senior in college, and to keep himself in top shape for performing, he had to learn how to say no to certain things, prioritizing his physical and mental health above all else. “You know your body, you know your mind, you know yourself better than anything else,” he says. “If you know that this is going to be stretching you too thin, it’s okay to say no to it because what’s meant for you is what’s meant for you.” Protecting his wellbeing gave him the strength and longevity to continue performing with How to Dance in Ohio, resulting in his Broadway debut.

Connecting and Keeping It Fresh

Stepping into the role of Drew offered Pearce something very close to his heart. While speaking of the character, he says, “our autism manifests in similar ways when it comes to the structure we like in our lives.” Pearce feels free to explore new facets of the character and the script onstage, claiming that “if I decide to say a line differently, or try a slightly new approach, within the boundaries of making sure the scene is still the same, it’s something that is encouraged.”

Performing with understudies also gives him the opportunity to experience new dynamics onstage. Pearce calls his costars “a family to me at this point” and makes a point of saying hello to all of them every day before they go onstage, grounding himself in their friendship and connection.

“I can say that 2023 was the best year of my life for so many reasons,” Pearce says. His belief that “what is meant for you will come to you” has resulted in unique confidence and courage that defines his brand as an actor.

 
Dylan Malloy is a regular contributor to Dramatics. Find her on Instagram at @dylan_writes.
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