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Humans of Drake: Peyton Johnson


Highlighting the stories of Drake students and faculty.


Underneath the “special skills” criterion on sophomore Peyton Johnson’s acting resume, she writes, “can tell a good story.” So, as proof, she told me a story about her future.

“If I was to ever have to change my name or develop a stage name, I would be called Danger Johnson,” Johnson said. “And just imagine the surprise of everyone when this beautiful, young lady is sitting there—and it’s me, I’m the beautiful young lady—and I’m in this huge, beautiful gown, and they’re like, ‘And the Tony for the best leading lady in a new musical is … Danger Johnson!’”

Johnson tends to set high goals for herself. She’s currently earning her BFA in musical theater with a concentration in leadership, and she’s building a simultaneous major in fine arts management, as well as a directing concentration—neither of which currently exist in Drake’s curriculum.

Her passion for performing, she said, began at birth. She’s “always been dramatic” and comfortable on a stage. She credits some of her flamboyance to her mother, whom she calls on the phone every single day.

“I realize I stand out, and I realize I’m different,” Johnson said. “I get up on a stage, and I’m short, and I’m black, and I have blonde hair, and I dress like I don’t give a damn, because I don’t.”

Her dream role is Elle Woods from the popular musical Legally Blonde. She has the blonde hair, the voice, and she loves the story—it seems like the perfect fit. However, Johnson is well aware of the roles she can and can’t play as a black woman.

“I have a lot of ambition, and I have a lot of similar voice parts to these (roles), but growing up, and allowing people to tell me I’ll never be able to play Elle Woods … you can’t play that because you don’t look like that, you can’t play that because your body type’s not like that,” Johnson said. “I internalize some of that.”

She hopes to push against casting stereotypes in what she calls her “passion project,” which would ideally take form as a cabaret titled, “Blonde B*tches I’ll Never Get to Play: An Intimate Evening with Peyton Johnson on Race and Theater.”

In the future, she hopes to be an advocate for young women of color in the world of theater.

For now, she said, her mom continues to remind her that she’s only 19 years old. She has a few more years before she can begin working her way through the New York theater scene.

Johnson’s most recent endeavor is High School Girls, a band for which she recently became the lead singer. The band, also comprised of Drake sophomores Jack Miles, Grant Blume, Adam Lathan and Tyler Manke, played their first show at the end of January and just played their first headlining show on March 2.

“I’ve never had these types of things accessible to me,” Johnson said. “I’ve wanted a band for so long, ever since I was a little girl. People would always write me off, but these guys embraced me.”

The band, which she hopes to schedule a Des Moines summer concert series with, should keep her occupied for the time being. Plus, she’s a resident assistant and a member of Drake Theatre People.

It’s worthy to note that over the course of this single interview, Johnson mentioned wanting to be the voice of a Disney princess, a Tony, Emmy and/or Oscar winner, a Broadway star, a speed skater, a law student, a pop star, a teacher, a theater director, a choreographer and a recording artist. It’s safe to say she’s pretty confident in her ability to shoot for the stars.

“Des Moines is my oyster,” Johnson said, “and I am a pearl, and I’m just twinkling and shining.”

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