Times may be hard, but there is still joy to be found, even after a long week. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a moment of emotional release. Welcome to Playbill's Feel Good Friday feature.
This week marked the Broadway debut of an astonishing 45 artists involved in the creation of How To Dance in Ohio. The new coming of age musical, which plays the Belasco Theatre, began previews November 15, and in celebration, several cast members shared throwback photos and videos congratulating their younger selves.
Desmond Luis Edwards, the actor that plays Remy, a cosplay-loving pop culture fan, shared a touching home movie from their childhood that depicts them dancing for joy in the middle of a theme park. Edwards' caption was simple: "This show is for you, little Dez"
Contrastingly, Edwards' co-star Imani Russell, who plays the driven young adult Mel in the show, had quite a bit to say. Russell shared a photo of themselves dressed as Pippi Longstocking as a child, and a video of themselves at 13 years old performing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home” with the following caption.
"Hello from the kid who always loved playing dress up and whose job is now doing that 8 times a week.
I don’t know if this version of me would believe that we’d be here today. They struggled a lot with their voice (and also with the bullying that came with being an autistic kid in the early 2000s with a special interest in music/performance). A lot of self-doubt. That still creeps in. But a LOT of love for doing the thing. For music. For making people feel. For the people I’ve met and continue to meet along the way. When all of the internal and external negative talk comes in, it’s always that lil one who keeps me going because they kept going.
I’m not just proud of myself, but also of them.
For always trying.
'Maybe this will end in disaster, but I’m gonna try
and try again'
Happy debut to and from me. I love you @ohiomusical"
Amelia Fei, who plays the hopeless romantic Caroline, took a fleeting approach to her tribute, sharing a charming childhood snapshot to her Instagram story with the caption "To the girl who went to the classroom next door to stand on another stool to sing after her kindergarten teacher took away her stool, last night was for you. Hope you're proud of me."
Lastly, actor Ashley Wool, who plays the fiercely confident Jessica, shared the video of her final callback for How to Dance in Ohio. The moment was of particular resonance to Wool, who cited the experience to Playbill as the moment she knew the show would change her life: "I felt this cosmic energy shift. It was like the voice of God or something saying, this is the thing."
Alongside the video, Wool wrote the following caption:
"On August 31, 2021, I recorded this callback video for Jessica in the 29-hour reading of @ohiomusical at my mom's house in the middle of nowhere.
It was my first time hearing any of the music from the show, or hearing of the documentary it was based on. I didn't have much context for the lyrics I was singing, or who "Jessica" was.
What I did know--from what I can only surmise was divine intuition--was that this creative team wanted #actuallyautistic people. Not just as tokens, but as collaborators. As artists. As friends whose voices, insights, and artistic choices mattered.
After my op-ed in OnStageBlog about Sia's movie went mildly viral in November 2020, I spent the better part of a year becoming more public about being autistic than I'd ever hoped or intended to be. I was met with a lot of backlash from people who simply did not want to understand.
There were also people who listened, who publicly uplifted autistic voices and encouraged me to use mine more. But there were still dark moments when I thought maybe this disclosure was the final nail in the coffin of any chance I had at an acting career. When Ohio came along, I wondered, "is autistic actress Ashley Wool *really* someone I'm ready to BE? In public? And never turn back?"
I decided that if I wanted to call myself any kind of advocate, I had to swallow my internalized ableism and walk the freaking talk. So I did something I'd never done in an audition in my adult life: I made a conscious choice to "unmask." To let my eyes go all over the place. To let my nervous energy express itself however it wanted. To allow this character to simply be whatever truthful, messy version of me came out in that moment. I broke all the "rules" that I was so accustomed to following, I forgot I that I could choose not to.
Two years later, surrounded by the most wonderful team of fellow creative risk-takers and rule-breakers, I will be making my #BroadwayDebut in a show that is living proof of what happens when we as artists from diverse backgrounds choose to celebrate our differences but prioritize focusing on what we have in common.
And we have so much in common.
Go to the dance with me."
Have a great weekend, and check back next Friday for another feel good feature.