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In conversation with Josh Groban
Josh Groban opens up about his summers at Interlochen Center for the Arts and the importance of arts education.
Four-time Grammy Award-nominated artist Josh Groban (IAC 97-98) spent his formative years immersed in the arts, and for that reason, he considers himself to be one of the lucky ones.
“I am a product of public arts education, and I am a product of amazing institutions like Interlochen Arts Camp,” Groban told Crescendo before his June 8, 2019 concert in Kresge Auditorium. “I experienced firsthand how life-changing it can be to be surrounded by kids who all have the same passion and vision for the arts. It was something that I desperately needed at that age.”
Today, Groban seems perfectly at ease hosting the Tony Awards or singing live for thousands of fans. But the young Groban needed confidence, nearly turning down a chance to fill in for Andrea Bocelli at the dress rehearsal for the 1999 Grammy Awards due to nerves.
“I was a kid who was struggling in other areas. I was very shy. I hadn't made a lot of friends at that point, and my grades weren't great. Coming to a program where I was able to be around other kids and to be a part of the arts—and to be able to express myself for the first time—was exactly what I needed.”
After decades as a multi-platinum recording artist, Groban returned to the theatrical spotlight with a starring role in the 2017 Broadway musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. In 2018, he co-starred with Tony Danza in the Netflix comedy The Good Cop. At Arts Camp, however, Groban wasn’t the leading man.
“Rokicki!” Groban exclaimed with a laugh. In 1997, Groban and fellow alumnus Rob Rokicki (IAC 96-97) were among the students who auditioned for the role of the eponymous antihero in that summer’s production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Rokicki landed the role; Groban was cast as the dustman. Years later, Groban would share with Vogue Magazine while doing press for the 2017 Tony Awards that his audition for Sweeney Todd at Interlochen was his worst audition ever.
“I really botched that audition,” Groban told Crescendo. “Afterwards, I was expecting to be made fun of or to feel isolated, but that couldn't have been farther from what happened. Everybody came up to me and said, ‘Hey man, you did a great job. You tried really hard. Can't wait to do the show with you, whatever happens.’ It was a feeling of unity, and we all had our different work to do to get ready for the show. But the togetherness, the friendships that developed, and the immediate support that every kid showed each other was something else.”
Because of that, Groban never begrudged his role, and returned to Camp in 1998 for the production of Fiddler on the Roof. “Sometimes, your worst audition can be your best life lesson, and you know what—it was. I'm very lucky that Sweeney Todd was my worst audition. They all got pretty good after that.”
“You come to a place like Interlochen, and you've got lots of talent around you. Suddenly, you're one of many people who've been chosen to be here, and so I was just very nervous. That was the first time when I really felt what those nerves felt like, and I'm so glad that I was able to experience what that nervousness felt like in a place that was actually very safe, nurturing, and loving.“
As a self-proclaimed lucky one, you can find that lesson echoed in Groban’s Find Your Light Foundation—an organization dedicated to expanding access to quality youth arts education to underserved populations.
“[Arts education] taught me about discipline. It made me feel part of something for the first time in my life. Many of my friends that I made here didn't go into the arts professionally; many of them did. To a certain degree, that didn't matter whatsoever. Interlochen was a place for us to find ourselves, and we used the arts as a tool to do that.”
When he wasn’t “goofing off” or singing Les Miserables or RENT with his friends on the Mall, Groban was learning about other artistic disciplines from his peers.
“The wonderful thing about time in the cabins is that you’re all put together, and you’re all in different aspects of the arts. You got to wake up and go to sleep each night with somebody who's studying euphonium, somebody who's studying dance, somebody who's in the World Youth Symphony Orchestra, somebody who's doing Shakespeare. So, you all go to your respective classes, but then at night you’d come back and talk about what you did. You’d learn about other aspects of the artistic world through your fellow campers,” Groban paused before adding, “That was very profound for me.”