John Michael Graham, a Drake University acting professor and lifelong theater artist, died at the age of 54 on April 3, 2023, at his family home in Des Moines.
Graham was born in Santa Clara, California to Donald and Clarine Graham on Oct. 5, 1969. He began his theater career in the early 1970s with the San Jose Children’s Musical Theater. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati, College Conservatory of Music. He received his Master’s Degree of Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Graham worked as an actor, director, vocal and dialect coach across the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe. Credits include Tony Award-winning Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park Theatre, the Michael Chekhov Association, San Francisco Stage Company and La MaMa Umbria in Italy. Graham was a member and officer for the Voice and Speech Trainers Association and served as an editor for the International Dialects of English Archives.
Graham was an integral part of Drake University’s Department of Theatre Arts. His passion for education, the arts, literature and collaboration made him an organic, fiercely passionate and highly creative professor and artist.
Professor John Pomeroy was able to work closely with Graham for many years and remembers him as an excellent colleague and an outstanding friend.
“As a theater artisan, John was highly creative and worked to express his creativity outside the stereotypes of North American theater,” Pomeroy said. “He was notably collaborative, working closely with everyone involved in his shows to share what our work needed to be.”
As a friend, Pomeroy describes Graham as cool. They bonded over a love of food, their families and rock music and would frequently speak to each other in song lyrics and movie quotes.
“In teaching, in creating art and in living, we both moved to our own melodies but realized early on that those melodies are kind of in tune with each other. That meant a lot to me,” Pomeroy said.
An obituary released by Iles Funeral Homes shared the items his family found tucked away in his overcoat on the evening of his passing.
Those items included “a book entitled, ‘The Power of Words’; a London Tube transportation pass; a ticket for a show at Shakespeare’s Globe; a quote from Henry V, ‘Once more unto the breach dear friends’; and a pencil that was inscribed with the words ‘Don’t you know it’s going to be alright?’”
Many of these items are remnants from the London Theatre History J-Term John led this past January. I had the privilege of being able to travel there with him. We cried together after seeing a staged production of “My Neighbor Totoro” and talked about theater and literature on the Tube. He took us students to his favorite bookstores and stored my books in his backpack to protect them from the London rain. He was a kind man, and it was an honor to learn from him.
A celebration of Graham’s life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, his family requests that memorial contributions be made to Planned Parenthood.