Moorhead singer/actor Nina Grollman kindly interviewed with the High Plains Reader on the day before her big move out to New York City to study acting at Juilliard.
Find out what it was like for her to audition for one of the most prestigious music schools in the country, how she reimagined Grease’s “Beauty School Dropout,” how YouTube changed her life and much more.
High Plains Reader: First of all, your performance in “Grease” was astounding. How did you prepare yourself for your role as Frenchy and your “Beauty School Dropout” solo?
Nina Grollman: From the start Ryan Domres, our director, he’s very much into channeling all of our artistic energies and letting us kind of have that artistic freedom with our numbers. And basically, in my contract, he was like “I want you to sing ‘Beauty School Dropout’ and I want you to put your stamp on it and do whatever you want with it … and I was like, that’s amazing. I – yes, please.
Originally, it is sung by the Teen Angel – the Teen Angel sings it to Frenchy. So it’s an entirely different thing to approach it from her point of view. I think it was a little more melancholic, a little sadder.
Every time I sing it, I never feel like it’s a farce or a funny, showy song – I feel like it’s very personal and it’s this scared and confused monologue about this crossroads in her life. I don’t know, I guess that’s how I approached the song, and I try to bring honesty to every line.
HPR: And from my understanding you’ve been involved in “Rent,” “Spring Awakening” and a number of other local plays. What made “Grease” special in comparison to these other plays you’ve been apart of?
NG: It was a different experience because the material, first of all, is so radically different. It was under new leadership, it was just a completely new endeavor and that kind of attracted me to it.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart in “Grease.” I wasn’t one of those kids that grew up with it either. I never knew what “Grease” was until last year, when I first watched the movie. So when I first watched the movie I just really liked it, and most people don’t like “Grease” for some reason. But I really like it, and ever since, I was like, “I want to do that someday. I think it would be really fun.” So ever since this opportunity came about I was like, awesome. I will take it.
HPR: Tell us about “New,” the song you released on iTunes last June?
NG: Well, songwriting to me – I’m still … very much a beginner. I mean, every time I write a song, I tend to sit on it for months and months and months and then I end up hating and then I throw it in the garbage and so, that’s just how I am.
But I’ve had this recording voucher to go record at Video Arts for like ever and ever and ever … And I’m like, I’m totally going to record this song and I’ll record it there, and it’ll be awesome. And I’ll have this demo track where I can just give to people or something. But every time I’d write a song, I’d hate it cause I’d sit on it and think about it for too long.
So one day, after one weekend, I just sat down and wrote a song in one sitting, in like an hour, literally. Cause I had these chords in my head and I was like, I want to do something, but I just hate writing lyrics. So I just literally scheduled the recording session for the next day, cause I was like I know I’m going to chicken out … I know it, I’m just – do it now! And do it quick before I back out of this.
So I was just like, “Hey Marty, can I schedule a time for tomorrow?
So literally I go in the next day just completely scared out of my mind because it is a really personal song. I mean the song’s about finding who you are – and it’s about sexuality and identity and just everything that surrounds that.
I went in and I remember recording it and it was just like an hour long, really simple track and then I leave and I get in the car and I was like … “What the %!&$ did I just do?” (Laughs) … I didn’t know if it was good, I didn’t know if it was absolutely terrible.
I got the track back, mastered and everything, so I sent it to my mom and I sent it to some of my friends and they all really, really liked it. And I was surprised by how impacted they were by it.
So after I few months, it had been just sitting in my iTunes library and I was just like, “Okay I think it’s time to do something with this.” Because the more I listened to it, the more I actually liked it because it was a brave personal thing that I hadn’t really ever done with a song before. Like I never really opened up that way in a song.
HPR: You also have quite a YouTube following and number of YouTube videos. Where did that all come from?
NG: I started my sophomore year, I think, of high school and I just had gotten a Mac and I was so excited and I was just exploring the software and stuff and I was just dinking around with GarageBand (a recording software). I had gotten a microphone for Christmas and I was super pumped and I remember just recording this stupid cover of “Tick Tock” by Ke$ha and thinking I was hilarious cause I had made an a capella version … I had put it on YouTube, literally like an MP3 track, with my picture as a joke … like nobody is going to see this.
Then people started watching it and I started getting stuff on Facebook and then getting genuine positive feedback and that kind of took me by surprise. And then I was like, hmm, maybe I should – I really like doing this. Cause ever since the sixth grade I would always play around with my recording software on my crappy, crappy PC … And so I was getting feedback and thinking I really like doing this and I just kept going and started making actual videos and cover songs and whatever else came to mind.
It’s been incredible, I don’t know where I would be today if I didn’t have that YouTube account. Because countless people around the community are supportive and people around the world, it’s just incredible. It’s crazy.
HPR: So you’re leaving for New York City tomorrow (August 7). How are you feeling now?
NG: Oh god. You know, I think it kind of just hit me, which is really weird. Because I’ve been going through a lot of emotions of like saying goodbye to people and it’s been kind of like … just now – just now – I was driving and I drove past my old high school, it’s so weird to say this now, and I just broke down like I cannot believe – I’m literally leaving a part of myself behind for a long, long time, forever. And it was kind of crazy and emotional and I don’t know.
Of course, I’m super excited to go to school and I’m nervous and all those tingly feelings that come with college or whatever. But I don’t know, it’s kind of really – I didn’t think it would be this sad, but it’s really sad to leave so many people that I love and just meet completely new strangers and hopefully get along with them.
HPR: When did you find out you were going to Juilliard and what was that like?
NG: Well … I auditioned and I had no expectations. That was honestly one of those things where I was like (makes motor sound with mouth) it was just a joke. I walked into the audition and it was just so tense in there. I was laughing. I had the biggest smile on my face and I was just reading “Perks of Being a Wallflower” and like just enjoying myself and just drinking everything in cause I was like there is no chance of me getting in. I’m literally here for the experience … that was honestly the mentality I had going into the audition cause I didn’t ever except the possibility.
And then I kept getting callbacks and callbacks and eventually it got really real and it became a tangible possibility and that was scary because I didn’t want it to be a possibility because I knew that I would be really disappointed (if I didn’t get in).
Once I got in the top 40 callback and I actually flew out to New York and I stayed in the dorms and I talked to everyone there and connected with people, I was like “God dammit. I gotta be here. I gotta be here. I need this to happen.” And then it did and it was the most joyous moment ever. (laughs)
It’s going to be an adventure for sure. But the whole process was definitely – I’d say, if I had to sum it up in couple words I’d say: arduous, hilarious … and really intense.
HPR: What do you hope to do after you graduate?
NG: I’d love to do it all. I would love to do film, T.V., I’d love to do theater, like intimate theater is incredible and beautiful. And I knew I had to go to school too because I wanted to figure myself out and figure out who I was as a person and as an actor.
Whatever it is, I know that the training is going to be undoubtedly like the best – an awesome, good experience. And I know I’m going to come out feeling ready, hopefully.
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