Johnston grew up in Leon, Iowa, and originally wanted to study radio broadcasting, but when he came to Graceland, he found his new home in the theatre department. Johnston earned his MFA in acting at the University of South Carolina and has appeared on screen and on stage across the nation.
Johnston started law school in 2020 to learn more about the other side of performing — contracts, copyright, property, and production rights, and how to better bring the arts to southern Iowa. As the pandemic shutdown began, Darrell was curious to see if Iowa had a state song and was pleasantly surprised to find not only that one existed, but it was in desperate need of an update. Darrell was inspired to write a fictional musical titled “State Song” about how the Iowa state song came to be.
Darrell likes to premiere his shows and films in Southern Iowa to honor his roots and help in the process of bringing new theatre and art to the area. During the first week of January 2022, Darrell workshopped his new musical at Carol Hall on Graceland’s Lamoni campus. Michael Morain ’01 got to witness the production and said, “It was cool that [Darrell] had so many music styles all in one show — there is a lot of variety in his music writing ability, and it is really impressive.”
But Carol Hall wasn’t the only stop on the “State Song” workshop tour. Immediately following the workshop in Lamoni, Darrell packed up his gear and performed his new musical in New York at the Manhattan Theatre Club the following week.
In his interview Darrell said, “Southern Iowa holds a permanent place in my heart. It is my childhood home. ‘State Song’ is sort of a love letter to Iowa. In the song, ‘Iowa,’ the lyrics that ring most true are, ‘The people of Iowa are famous for their charms. If you find yourself in their presence, there’s a reason.’ Premiering my work in Southern Iowa is my small way of participating in cultural vitality in the place that I love. Southern Iowa deserves great theatre! I am incredibly lucky to have Graceland as a welcoming venue to make this ethic possible.”
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