Drew Johannes ’23 wears a lot of hats — theater major, film and digital media minor, actor and director, Indiana Army National Guard combat medic, Wabash ROTC platoon leader, Scarlet Masque president, Kappa Sigma fraternity president.
“Believe it or not, I was actually a really shy kid. I was not outgoing at all until about fifth grade when I stated doing theater,” recalls the senior from Logansport, Indiana. “In high school, I was class president, a member of the Chinese club, theater, show choir — I was doing everything I could for the fun of it.”
That mentality continued into college as Johannes found himself jumping into any and all opportunities he could, especially within the theater department.
“I’m a thrill seeker,” says Johannes, who has been a part an active member of the National Guard since he was 17. “There is a different kind of adrenaline on stage. The pressure that comes from memorizing lines, developing a believable character that no one’s ever met before, and then presenting that story to people who will be judging from the start of the opening scene, it makes my heart pump so fast. I can’t find that feeling anywhere else.”
During his time at Wabash, Johannes has performed in “Twisted Tales of Poe,” “The Amateurs,” “The 39 Steps,” “As You Like it,” and the Scarlet Masque production of “The Woods.” Last semester, he directed and acted in the Scarlet Masque’s one-night-only performance of “Saturday Night Live.” He plans to audition for the upcoming spring productions of “Stage Kiss” and “Hand to God.”
Associate Professor of Theater Jim Cherry, who directed “Twisted Tales of Poe,” said Johannes’ audition for the live radio production was “a definitive Drew Johannes story” and one of the most memorable experiences he’s had in his 15 years of teaching and directing at Wabash.
“We were starting auditions in January 2021,” Cherry recalled. “Drew expressed interest in being in the show. But being in the National Guard, he was called to serve in Washington D.C. during the insurrection on Jan. 6. So, I auditioned Drew for the play over FaceTime from his Humvee.
“He was dressed in camo. There was a moment where he interrupted his audition to explain to someone how to put gas into the Humvee. He was leading and telling people what to do one moment, then he would drop back into character and continue doing his monologue,” he said. “It was the strangest, most interesting audition I’ve ever done in my life, and he was great!”
Cherry was amazed by Johannes’ ability to remain cool under pressure.
“To continue to be inventive under really wacky circumstances is just priceless,” said Cherry, who has now taught and directed Johannes in number of classes and productions. “When I see Drew, I always think of that moment. It’s not every day that you have to be deployed to the nation’s capital, in the middle of a pandemic, in order to safeguard democracy. And he was just like, ‘Yeah, I’m doing that, and I’m also going to audition for this play.’”
Professor of Theater Michael Abbott ’85 described Johannes as being an “instinctual” performer who embraces the unknown and is not afraid of embarrassing himself.
“He just doesn’t take anything very seriously, in a good way,” Abbott said. “He seems to have no nerves. He’s the kind of guy who’s leading life like everything is a bonus.”
At the same time, Abbott added, Johannes’ has an impressive maturity and ability to mix the experiences and skills he’s gained with the National Guard and ROTC with what he’s doing and learning on and off the stage.
“I’ve noticed, especially in Senior Seminar where he had to shoot and direct his own short film, Drew is very disciplined,” he said. “Being in ROTC requires a lot of discipline, time management, and doing things exactly a certain way. He probably didn’t have that similar thought originally about being an actor, but he has realized along the way that filmmaking and acting involve a lot of people and moving parts, and it takes a similar amount of organization, leadership, and discipline.”
Abbott said the department is proud of Johannes’ accomplishments and growth over the last four years.
“It’s not often the case that we have a student who’s cast in a bunch of shows and then goes off and joins the Army. That’s a pretty different segue,” Abbott said. “I know all he’s done at Wabash is going to help him and make him a better soldier.”
“His liberal arts background, his background in theater, and his ROTC training coming together makes for a really interesting hybrid,” Cherry added. “I see him doing really interesting things in his future.”
As part of Wabash’s ROTC program, Johannes will serve in the Army as an officer for four years after graduation. He has a wish-list of where he would like to be stationed, with Japan at the top, but explained there is a lot of competition and placement will be determined based on what branch he is assigned and the needs of the Army.
“I’ll find out what the future looks like for me before I graduate,” Johannes said. “For now, I’m going to focus on doing what makes me happy. I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity I can over these next few months on campus and have fun with my brothers.”