By Tom Tietjen | December 7, 2021
Troy Iwata is best known for his role in the Netﬂix series Dash & Lily, where he stars as the slightly immature, hopeless romantic, big
What fans of the show may not know is Troy is a singing and dance man! He received his big break in Broadway’s Be More Chill and this month, he joins Tituss Burgess and a cast of Broadway artists from under-represented segments of the theatre community in the new musical album, Place and Time.
Written by EllaRose Chary and Brandon James Gwinn, the team behind the 2021 Richard Rodgers Award winning musical, TL;DR Thelma Louise; Dyke Remix, Place and Time shines a spotlight on women, queer POC, theys, enbys and trans folk. Troy plays a character awakening to a part of themself and he hopes his song,” Why I Chose,” is a reminder to queer youth that identity expands further than sexual orientation.
We spoke with Troy from his Manhattan apartment.
Tom Tietien: What was it like up in a little town in the mountains of California?
Troy Iwata: If I had to sum up my early childhood in a nutshell, it mostly consisted of the neverending question, 'Should I believe the things my conservative, born-again Christian Dad and my secular mom says?' I spent all of high school in the closet despite looking back and realizing I wasn’t fooling anyone. 24/7 anxiety and depression, repressing gay thoughts, shutting my eyes as tightly as I could thinking that would make my pray-the-gay-away prayers stronger.
TT: Did you ﬁnd solace on stage?
TI: I didn’t start drama ‘til my junior year of high school and it’s all thanks to my older brother who forced me to audition for The Wizard of Oz. I got cast as the Scarecrow and for the ﬁrst time in my life, I felt I had an outlet for my emotions that wasn’t crying alone in my room or trying to hit the gayness out of my head. I remained in the closet but the drama club was the closest thing to comfort I’d ever felt. No one there was in a rush to grow up. We were silly, stupid and less afraid to love the things about life that made us happy.
TT: Did things get better for you in college?
TI: Believe it or not, I ended up going to a small Christian school, mainly because I knew how to navigate that world. It wasn’t new to me; I’d been doing it for eighteen years. I majored in theatre because it’s just what I gravitated towards. It gave me access to a healthier emotional outlet. I genuinely was not thinking about a career in any way. I was purely still in mental and emotional survival mode.
TT: What led you to Broadway?
TI: I moved to NYC after college because I honestly didn’t know what else to do. I thought the worst that could happen would be I’d fail, have no money and have to move back home and be sad, and that was what most of my life had been anyway so it didn’t seem so terrible. I had no goals to be on Broadway. I never allowed myself to have it as a goal, it was always a “that would be really special” dream.
TT: How did you ﬁnd yourself in Be More Chill?
TI: My journey there wasn’t traditional. I had auditioned for the regional show and didn’t get it. Then, years later, when they made the Oﬀ-Broadway announcements, I emailed my agents and told them I’d love to be seen for it. I auditioned, got cast as an understudy and then when it moved to Broadway, they took me with them. I’ll cherish everything about that experience for the rest of my life.
TT: Did you ﬁnd your community among the Broadway actors?
TI: Um, sure? (Laughing) Yeah, I made some great friends in the process. Others remained lovely co-workers which is also great. Theatre is so temporary, I don’t think it’s fair to pressure yourself to become like family with every cast that you work with.
TT: How did you come to connect with Brandon and Ella on their Place & Time album?
TI: I’ve known Brandon for a few years. He reached out to me and asked if I was available and I was. Sometimes the stars align on certain projects. Getting to work together on something that means a lot to him is really special.
TT: “Why I Chose” is a beautiful song with a wonderful message. What does the song mean to you?
TI: I’m not gonna lie, when Brandon sent me the rough cut of the song, I listened to myself sing for hours and I was like, “Omg I’m amazing.” The song is gorgeous and it’s a lovely reminder to queer youth that your identity can expand further than your sexual orientation. Even who you’re attracted to doesn’t - or at least shouldn’t - come attached with societal rules about how you should act, think or look. We live in a society that’s obsessed with categories and it shames people, speciﬁcally black, brown, people with disabilities and queer people for stepping out of their box. This song is a small encouragement to dare to live in the in-between.
TT: We have to ask about Dash and Lily. How did that come about?
TI: Joe Tracz, who wrote the book for Be More Chill, approached me during rehearsals and said, “I’m working on a Netﬂix show and there’s this character who a half-Asian, gay, comedic brother. I think you’d be good for it.” I was…I was good for it.
TT: What do you love about the show?
TI: I love how warm and cozy it is. I love how family centric it is. I love its ability to be inclusive without pushing an agenda. Dash & Lily simply exists unapologetically and has a gorgeous message of ﬁnding the beauty of stepping out of your comfort zone and having faith in yourself and others.
TT: Will there be another season?
TI: No, and even though that makes me sad, I think the show is such a perfect little thing for the world and I hope people enjoy revisiting it. Midori’s in my phone as “Lil’ Sis”.
TT: Now we start the tough questions. What is something fans would be surprised to learn about you?
TI: I do this crazy, random thing where I like to have cereal in the morning, like with milk, cold milk, it’s just my own little, I don’t know, I’m weird. That’s a joke. (Laughing) But that is a tough question! I don’t really know.
TT: Do you have a secret talent?TI: I can do lots of origami. I’m sure people reading this are like, “We assumed Mr. IWATA.”
TT: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
TI: My shoulder keeps popping and I’d love for that to stop. Other than that, I’m gonna try to not waste my time fantasizing about things I can’t change.
TT: What is your most treasured possession?
TI: These questions! I’m literally looking at objects around my studio apartment asking, “Would I care if this was lost in a ﬁre?” I like my eyebrows.
TT: Last one and then the torture stops. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
TI: Aside from myself, I’m with a lovely human who is my boyfriend and they are constantly making me laugh and surprising me with the way they communicate and make me feel more special than I sometimes feel about myself. I love them very much. And yes, they go by they/them. I still call them my boyfriend. We’ve had a conversation about it, this is what they decided, shut up.
Place and Time is available on Spotify and Apple Music. Learn more at http://www.brandonandella.com.