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Interview: MEAN GIRLS at Proctors: Fetching Up with Lindsay Heather Pearce

Prior to next week’s arrival of the film-inspired musical MEAN GIRLS to Proctors, I spoke with Lindsay Heather Pearce, who recently took over the role of Janis on tour.

Interview: MEAN GIRLS at Proctors: Fetching Up with Lindsay Heather Pearce
Eric Huffman and Lindsay Heather Pearce
[Photo Credit: @maegan.olyvia]

Prior to next week's arrival of the film-inspired musical MEAN GIRLS to Proctors, I spoke with Lindsay Heather Pearce, who recently took over the role of Janis on tour. Her resume includes some notable television and theater credits, including her participation on The Glee Project/Glee and her Broadway debut as Elphaba in WICKED.

BWW: Good afternoon, Lindsay. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today! We are looking forward to having you here at Proctor's next week. Where are you now?

Lindsay: We're in Grand Rapids [Michigan]. It's a beautiful city. I've just been biking everywhere and it's been really lovely, the sunshine and the river. And the people are really nice. Detroit was really exciting and loud: it's Motor City, so it was a totally different energy. There's something about the outer boroughs that reminds me of the small town I grew up in. Biking around is kind of like reliving Northern California.

BWW: So, let's start at the beginning! How did you get into performing?

Lindsay: I feel like it's kind of a cliché answer, but 'it found me.' I grew up watching those great movies like THE SOUND OF MUSIC, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, all of the Disney films - anything with a song in it. Sondheim was a huge first love for me...INTO THE WOODS! I could not stop watching that original cast proshot! It was that and my dad's love of rock music. I was raised in a family full of athletes. I was the only adopted child and was the only singer. My parents realized that I sang all the time; I think I was singing before I was talking. So, when I was around 7, they put me into a children's theater group.

I think the first show that we did was a weird little show called CLOWNS - and I wish I was joking. It was a totally original show...probably nightmare-inducing. I also have a distinct memory of another one called COMPOSE YOURSELF. It was about composers and I played Beethoven and sang a song called "Can You Hear?" to the tune of "Moonlight Sonata." Then, eventually it was INTO THE WOODS JR and HANSEL AND GRETEL. I remember we did STARMITES at one point, which I think is a very underrated and wonderful musical.

The good thing about that specific children's community theater group was that it was part of an opera house, so I would also be in shows with these amazing adults. They would do JEKYLL & HYDE and I would be the little newspaper street urchin in "Murder." I'd be in MADAMA BUTTERFLY as a servant. I would get to see these really amazing vocalists and very talented professional adults perform. I think that set me off. Then, eventually junior college and OKLAHOMA, and I did BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at a repertory theater.

I just loved music. And I just kept following it. Most people [who do this professionally] have that realization of like, "Oh wait! This is a career path?? I can do this for the rest of my life?" That's always the story and I think I'm no different.

BWW: Your "big break" was The Glee Project, bringing you into the world of that extremely popular show-choir hit! What was that experience like?

Lindsay: It was kind of wild. We were all really young. I don't think there had been really anything quite like that with people that young, yet. I think there was The Search for Elle Woods - but it definitely felt like a new frontier of tv. It opened a lot of doors, but I don't think reality television is something I'd ever do again! [laugh] It's a lot. It requires a lot of hours. Thank god we were all young and had the energy to keep up with the schedule! But, it was an amazing learning experience: getting to learn about myself and how to work with other people. Living outside of the small bubble I was raised in. It was eye-opening. And obviously, I met unbelievable people, some lifelong companions. Our war stories from those days are really hilarious. But, it was incredible. It launched me into L.A. and I went to L.A. knowing people, which was a real gift. Then, I filmed Glee and that was a big learning experience, as well. I think I got really lucky breaking into the television and film world through the musical theater lens, basically doing musical theater on tv and learning the differences between television, film and theater and how they can cross.

Interview: MEAN GIRLS at Proctors: Fetching Up with Lindsay Heather Pearce
Lindsay Heather Pearce as Elphaba in WICKED
[Photo Credit: Joan Marcus]

BWW: After that, you consistently worked in theater and TV, leading to your Broadway debut in WICKED as the green girl, Elphaba, in February 2020 - and, two weeks later, the pandemic changed everything. What was that like?

Lindsay: I was in rehearsal for 4 weeks - and then two and half weeks in, we closed. It was really wild. The Broadway debut itself was a dream. It was an unbelievable honor and it was challenging and incredible and exciting. That being said, my Broadway debut felt like getting shot out of a cannon! I had never experienced anything like that. I'd never been in the Broadway circuit before, and anyone that is doing an 8-show week busts their butts. I knew that it was grueling, hard work. But, to not only experience it first-hand, but to experience it as that character in that role with that workload: it was unbelievably humbling, as if I wasn't already humbled enough walking into that job. Unbelievably gift-giving. Even on the hardest days, I couldn't believe that I was given this opportunity, and I'll never forget it.

Then, the shutdown happened. I think if I had been doing anything - if I had been doing a community theater production of HAMLET and the world had shut down like that, I would have felt unbelievably affected by it. But, to be in New York while it was all happening was a lot. Very intense, obviously. Everything was a big question mark. Nobody knew when we were coming back. Nobody knew if everyone was okay or where everyone went to in the world. But, throughout the pandemic, while we were in quarantine, I had the gift and the privilege of knowing I had a job to go back to, where a lot of people did not get that. We had been on Zoom meetings, and I think most of the long-running shows [knew they] were pretty safe.

BWW: Ultimately, you were able to return to the role when the show reopened last September.

Lindsay: [Yes. When WICKED was ready to reopen,] I had the wonderful experience of getting to come back and rehearse with everyone for three weeks. As someone who was a replacement, you rehearse, then you go in and replace someone and the show doesn't skip a beat. It just goes on and you kind of get to know people if you get to know people at all because you only see them at work. So getting to start, not from scratch, but to be with everyone and to be doing it together - not just upstairs in the 4th floor rehearsal room rehearsing by yourself and eventually you're just going to fit right in like a puzzle piece - was amazing. It was a group effort. And we had been on Zoom meetings together. And that was anxiety-relieving. [Elphaba is] already an isolating role, just in its nature. The way that it's written is isolating. She goes through an isolating experience. You [also] kind of have to live like a nun while you're performing the role. So, getting to go to work every day from 10-6 and be on lunch breaks or snack breaks with each other and sit down, with our masks on, pushing food underneath the masks, was just great. The entire experience from start to finish, pandemic included, was an incredible learning experience of radical self-love and acceptance and care.

And the people I was lucky enough to share that stage with were second to none. The best of the best. And we all got to reopen it together - and that was its own...it was like a rock concert. I will never forget that for as long as I live. I went up in the air and I literally couldn't hear anything. It was just people at the top of their lungs, on their feet before I even started rising. And they had been giving a standing ovation after every song, every entrance of a character. The minute the ensemble stepped out, the monkeys, Kristen Chenowith coming out. Everyone was standing. Everyone needed it. It's going to make me cry just thinking about it. To be able to give that back after being separated for so long was just so special. There is nothing like that. And to able to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse, performing to this empty house - and then getting to fill that in with friends and family for the preview, getting WICKED to the people that are closest to you, and then getting WICKED back to the public. Just, come on! Come on! Nothing in the world is like that. What an honor.

BWW: Did your performance change when you came back?

Lindsay: Gosh, probably. I think a lot of us lived quite a lot of life in the 16-18 months we'd all been away. I had gone through a lot of personal things and had experienced all the current events that everyone else had gone through during the pandemic. There were lines when we reopened that hit differently: you don't think that lines like, "We can never come back to Oz, can we?" are going to hit you that hard. We didn't know when we said that in our final Wednesday evening show before the pandemic that we couldn't come back. Then, when I left [the show] a month ago, saying it at that point, I was like, "Oh my god!" The show just kind of allows you to go through what you're going through in that moment.

I was talking to my reopening Glinda, Ginna Claire [Mason], and said, "You know what's really going to hit is, 'Fellow Ozians, friends, we've been through a frightening time. And there will be other things that frighten us, but if you let me, I'd like to help. I'd like to try to be Glinda the Good.' Nuts! Absolutely nuts.

BWW: And now, you are joining this brilliant cast for the first national tour of the musical MEAN GIRLS. How does touring life compare to Broadway?

Lindsay: You know, it's its own challenge. I've never done a national tour before. I've performed on ships, so there is a similarity in that suitcase living - but you didn't have to hop from ship to ship. [laughs] So, it's a challenge in learning how to pack the right way and how to be really efficient in what you need and what you don't need. And every city has its own challenges - and allergens! Michigan [where we are] is going through it! It's allergy season right now, and we're all getting hit with it. I had already been hit in allergy season at WICKED in New York in April, so I'm experience it again. But, it's amazing. I'm seeing states I haven't been to before.

And, it's nice to be able to bring this to people who maybe can't get to New York. They can drive in and come to see the show and still get that caliber - that great level of performance that they're hungry for - without flying all the way to San Francisco, L.A. or New York. It's kind of great. Being able to bring theater TO people. Our job is literally to travel and give theater to people. I mean, come on! What a gift!

BWW: And you get to play the iconic role of Janis!

Lindsay: I mean, come on! Have you seen the costumes? This whole interview can just be "Lindsay Heather Pearce Says Come On." [laughs] She's so fun, and I'm taking over after Mary Kate Morrisey, who is also an Elphaba. The Elphaba to Janis pipeline exists now and it's great! Being able to shadow her and have time with her, and talk about our war stories of WICKED and how different this is here, and the challenges here and the joy here is just amazing. It's not lost on me. WICKED is a dramedy; MEAN GIRLS is a comedy. So it's the most fun. And it's a wonderful company. Wonderful producers and managers. It's just great. It's a really lovely experience.

And Janis is just cool! Her level of honesty and self-awareness is pretty awesome and I can only hope to have that within my own life. The way that she carries herself. My voice changes and the way I hold myself changes when I'm in those costumes and those Doc Martens and the wig and the dark lipstick: you just roll your shoulders forward. When I was in high school, that was the person I wanted to be. I wanted to be the Janis Ian/Sarkisian of the school. So, little Lindsay is having the time of her life. My inner teen is LIVING her truth right now. It's really fun.

There was so much specificity in playing Elphaba because you had to fit into this machine of a show. There's guides and goalposts to stick within. Not in a militant kind of way, but you can't just go willy nilly. It's WICKED! You have to keep the integrity of the show. But, with Janis, she's a 17-year-old Junior art freak high school student, so it's kind of like go off! Do whatever you want! Obviously within reason, but I also have time when I'm not the center focus of the show, so I get to talk to my castmates while we're sitting at lunch tables on the stage. I'm more part of the ensemble than I was with my last show, so there's a lot that's just really, really fun. I relate a lot to her goofiness and her joy and her love of play. She loves to play and she and Damian play a lot during the show.

On the other hand, I would never set up a friend to ruin another person's life, whether I thought that person sucked or not. That's just not a Lindsay Pearce thing. Not my goal. Not my M.O. Even when I was a teenager in my worst moments. There's so much intention in what Janis does where she's actively trying to ruin Regina's life. If I ever hurt somebody, or acted completely out of character, it was because I was a teenager and an idiot. But, there is so much specific intention here. If I ever do that, I hope my friends just flick me in the mouth and tell me to get my s*** together! Because this is not the way to be a human to another human being.

BWW: What is your favorite moment in the show?

Lindsay: There's a really fun moment in Act I where The Plastics are teaching Cady the rules of each day, what you can and can't do. Gretchen says, "If you break any of these rules, you can't sit with us. Not just you; I mean any of us. You have to sit over there with the art freaks," and the art freaks have kind of a spotlight moment. Sometimes I do the "Defying Gravity" battle cry! [laughs] We just pretend like we're in WICKED...or we pretend like we're dinosaurs. Or, there have been PHANTOM OF THE OPERA moments that other Janises have done that are just so funny. The people that get it get it. It's not every night. There's always something new and I'll always turn to Eric Huffman, my Damian, and be like, "What do you want to do tonight? Dinosaurs? Defying Gravity? Something new?" and he'll just be like, "Dinosaurs!" It's super fun. It's a very "yes and" show.

BWW: If you could give Janis some advice, what would you tell her?

Lindsay: Keep going to therapy, for sure. Maybe a little bit of anger management. [laughs] But, no, in all seriousness, I think I would just tell her to let it go. Not to "Elsa" it, but I would just say let it go. Whatever that is, it's taking away from you, so stop letting this hatred of one person [rule you]. You've become obsessed and it's ruining your life on top of theirs, so I'd just say drop it. It's not worth it. High school really does end and you are going to be okay!

MEAN GIRLS arrives in Schenectady at Proctors on March 22, 2022 and runs through Sunday, March 27th, 2022. Tickets and more information may be found at www.proctors.org




From This Author - Jared West

JARED WEST is a New York Capital Region-based actor and has been a BroadwayWorld.com writer for the last six years. Previously, he worked as Senior Editor and Freelance Writer (Travel/Entertainment)... (read more about this author)


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