Interlochen alumni light up Broadway

Nestled away in the quiet woods of Northern Michigan, you’ll find one of the nation’s most impressive theatre arts training grounds.

Dane Laffrey's set for the 2000-01 production of "She Loves Me"

The Dane Laffrey-designed set of the 2000-01 production of She Loves Me.

Alexandra Silber and Michael Arden in She Loves Me

Alexandra Silber and Michael Arden in She Loves Me, a 2000-01 IAA Theatre production.

Michael Arden and Dane Laffrey lead a master class at Interlochen Arts Academy

Michael Arden (left) and Dane Laffrey (center) join Theatre Division Director William Church for a master class in November 2015.

Emily Koch

Alumna Emily Koch, shown during the 2006-07 Academy year.

Dane Laffrey

Dane Laffrey (Photo courtesy of Dane Laffrey)

Nestled away in the quiet woods of northern Michigan, you’ll find one of the nation’s most impressive theatre arts training grounds, with a summer program described as “the gold standard of theater camps” by the New York Times and a high school theatre program named the best in the nation by The Hollywood Reporter in 2014.

But really you don’t need to look up what the media has to say about it—just take a peek at the playbills of some of the biggest recent Broadway productions, from Hamilton to Wicked to Spring Awakening, and you’ll find cast and crewmembers with Interlochen ties who are making a major splash on a regular basis.

“It is not only where you study, but with whom you study,” said alumna Alexandra Silber (IAA 99-01, IAC 95-99), currently playing Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof. “They say that when you play tennis, you should always play with someone as good or better than you—that is how you truly improve your game.” Silber added that she and her friends found that level of challenge at Interlochen.

Silber’s Interlochen classmate Michael Arden, director of Spring Awakening, agrees. He recalls a production his class worked on while here for academy that had particular resonance.

"We did a production of She Loves Me ... my friend Alexandra Silber was in it, opposite of me, and Dane Laffrey helped design it,” Arden said. “And today, a lot of us are still working together and near each other on Broadway. Dane designed the set and costumes for (Spring Awakening), and he is also my roommate, and we got to make our Broadway debut as director and designer together. It's pretty special.”

Silber also values the close dynamic she and her classmates held for each other, in the past and present.

“Michael, Dane and I were very close in high school, and remain so to this day, and even then we could sense a different kind of drive, ability and devotion to the theatrical art form,” she said. “I did almost every show opposite Michael, and we made each other better—we complemented, enhanced, and truly challenged one another in the most profound ways, and I am the artist I am today because of that. Without question.”

Though she was a member of a later class than Silber, Laffrey and Arden, alumna Emily Koch (IAA 07-09, IAC 06-07), currently acting as the standby for Elphaba in Wicked, said the discipline and artistic focus at Interlochen is indeed something special—something not found in many other places, high school or otherwise.

“There’s a certain amount of discipline with Interlochen people that is just so innate—there’s a certain level of passion, and you have to really love what you do from an early age to go live in the woods in the middle of Michigan and only think about art,” she said. “I think that attracts a certain kind of person—one who says, ‘I am passionate and extremely driven and willing to sacrifice some aspects of my life to go after what I want,’ and that’s the kind of personality that works on Broadway. Your life is the show.”

Arden and Laffrey both spoke to the variety of classes they took while at Interlochen, and how that foundation helped them build their careers.

“It's incredible—you get to look at art through all different angles. It's incredibly important,” Arden said. “I mean, I studied to be an actor but now I’m working as a director, so I definitely am thankful that I had my directing class that I took here at Interlochen, and that I did take a playwriting class, and a movement class, and music, and all these things that are now coming in handy as I move into a sort of multifaceted career.”

Koch remembered the teachers—and the visiting artists who gave master classes while she was there.

“Within the first couple of weeks of starting Academy we had a master class with Victoria Clark,” Koch said. “She was unbelievable. We actually had to audition to be in the master class. She wanted to work with fewer people, but more intensely. She worked with each of us for like a half-hour individually … it was just amazing.”

Faculty member David Montee had that same kind of impact on Arden, who said Montee’s acting class “really helped shape me as an actor, and what I thought about theatre ... a lot of the ideas that got me to directing a hit Broadway play came from him."

But friends and instructors aside, there may be an almost indefinable quality about Interlochen, which Silber tried to articulate—something that perhaps you’ve just got to take on faith.

“Any place where young artists can come together and be, learn and grow together is a special place,” she said. “But Interlochen has something magical about it—perhaps it is those stately pines and haunted freshwater lakes, perhaps it is the legacy or the years of built of traditions. I don’t know—sometimes one shouldn’t ask what makes a place magical, one must simply accept it.

“I do know that the place would have just been a place without the people I met and loved there, but none of us could have been gathered anywhere else.”

The education and friendships these artists built at Interlochen are things they continue to value—and all welcomed the opportunity to share some of those lessons with other young artists.

“Trust your struggle. It is all part of the story, and it refines, defines, and ultimately: makes you better. … Success is not about what you do, it is about how you feel about what you do.” —Alexandra Silber

“Trust yourself, but try new things. Not all advice is going to be right for you, but you have to try it out. And if you stop yourself from trying, you’re never going to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. So be open!” —Emily Koch

“You have to be sure that it’s what you want to do. In fact, it has to be something you have to do. You have to have that kind of passion for (your art).” —Dane Laffrey

“I think it's important to remember that there will always be a bit of a struggle, but to make a life in art, it requires unending examination of what you’re doing and why you're doing it. And if you continue to work as hard as you can, and you do so with great kindness for everyone around you, I think that's most important. Because no matter how talented or good you are at your craft, if you're not enjoyable to be around and you don't support others and you don't make it seem like it is a blessing to be doing what you're doing, no one is going to want to do it with you—it is incredibly important to operate from the most kind and loving position. That's my advice.” —Michael Arden

Here are a few of the Interlochen Academy alumni working on recent or upcoming Broadway productions:

  • Caitlin Abraham (IAA 97-99), actor, An American in Paris, current production
  • Michael Arden (IAA 99-01, IAC 99), director, Spring Awakening, closed Jan. 24
  • Kevin Emrick (IAA 00-03), associate producer, King Charles III, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, current productions
  • Rachel Eskenazi-Gold (IAA 10, IAC 03-09), actor, Phantom of the Opera, current production
  • Kimiko Glenn (IAA 06-07), actor, Waitress, opening April 2016
  • Sydney James Harcourt (IAA 94-97), actor, Hamilton, current production
  • Emily Koch (IAA 07-09, IAC 06-07), actor, Wicked, current production
  • Dane Laffrey (IAA 99-01), designer, Spring Awakening, closed Jan. 24; Fool for Love, closed Dec. 13, 2015
  • Alexandra Silber (IAA 99-01, IAC 95-99), actor, Fiddler on the Roof, current production
  • Benjamin Walker (IAA 99-00, IAC 98), actor, American Psycho, opening in April 2016
  • Christian Dante White (IAA 03-04, IAC 03), actor, Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, opening in April 2016

(Do you know of other alumni on Broadway? Let us know at!)