Take Five with Tony Roach ’97

Tony Roach ’97 is an actor who is currently in the company of the musical Flying Over Sunset at Lincoln Center (with music by Tom Kitt ’96). His stage credits include My Fair Lady (2018), The Liar (2017) and Bright Star (2016); he has also appeared on the television shows The Blacklist and Elementary.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I stepped out of a cab onto 114th Street wearing white sneakers, white tube socks and a white T-shirt with an enormous Tasmanian devil on it tucked into jean shorts, so ... awesome? Whenever people ask me what it was like to come to NYC from Kansas, I say that I was so prepared to be overwhelmed that it didn’t end up feeling like that big of a deal. But I think the impact was much greater than I noticed at the time. Not that the stereotype holds anyway, but I didn’t grow up on a farm, or even in “the country,” so I wasn’t the rubiest of rubes. That said, I did possibly, perhaps, maybe have a touch of small(er)-town naiveté about me. However, I also had my midwestern niceness in tow and I had a great time meeting people. I also realize now that I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I didn’t actually know that much about the College — after getting accepted I made a less-than-24-hour whirlwind visit, so every day seemed to contain several “a-ha” moments. That was fun in its own way, but looking back I think, “Hmm, maybe I shoulda read the catalog.”

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

It was great. I was in Carman — 14th floor, I think. I had a corner room on the north side, so I spent many an hour sitting on the windowsill and looking out over campus, the Hudson and the GW Bridge. There were four guys named Pete on my floor, and each had a nickname to distinguish him. Two were in my suite: Football Pete in the other room, I believe from Houston, who taught me how to use chopsticks at Ollie’s during Spring Break; and my roommate, Guitar Pete (Langland-Hassan ’97 ), who as evidenced by the name was a fantastic guitar player and taught me how to play. He started a band and our room was the usual practice space, so about once a week I’d have a full rock ’n’ roll band wailing away while I perched on my sill.

It was also in Carman that first week, maybe even the first day, that I met novelist-extraordinaire-to-be Lauren Grodstein ’97, SOA’11. She was the only person I had some connection to , since the summer before she and a friend of mine from high school had been at a camp at Northwestern. But I didn’t know what she looked like, and on the elevator one afternoon with about six or seven people riding silently, one leaned over to look at me and said, “Is your name Tony?” I think maybe I matched the description of the aforementioned Kansas boy.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

My favorite Core class was CC with Harrison White (I remembered his having some impressive credentials so I looked him up again; please, check out his Wikipedia page!). He was smart to say the least, but also so enthusiastic and generous and kind! I can picture him jumping up to move a desk from one side of the room to the other for a student one day. He just so clearly loved being in the classroom and talking about the material, and he was really wonderful at leading a lively discussion that didn’t seem entirely academic. It was exactly what you hoped to get by going to a school like Columbia.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

I know I’m not unique, but I loved hanging out on the Low Steps. It’s the center of campus and overlooks so much open space, so you’re watching all this energy buzz around you. For a more contemplative experience, I would sit off to the side of the Steps on the ledge at the base of the building behind the bushes. It was private and quiet, though it had the effect of making me feel a little like an animal in the wild (in the good way) whenever someone noticed me there.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

Tony Roach

Roach in his dressing room at Lincoln Center after winning the weekly “Dollar Friday” drawing during his run in My Fair Lady.

I would be happy to do a lot of it over, though I’m mostly thinking about the overall experience. I had a great friend group and loved my theatre cronies, and I really had a blast working, playing and having old-fashioned, navel-gazing, dorm-room discussions with all of them, in addition to generally behaving like an idiot, which was my specialty then. But those four years were amazing. I absolutely loved growing up in Kansas and am still proud to be from there, but just being in NYC and at the College were in themselves mind-expanding. To be among such a diversity of people and experiences was, I think, my favorite part of my education.