Passion and purpose

Darren McElroy '11 seeks to represent Christ on and off the stage

by Seth Rainey '19

Darren McElroy ’11 has been drawn to performance since an early age. He graduated from HPU with a theatre major and has since gone on to a successful career as a professional stage actor. 

In his acting career, Darren has performed in numerous theatres in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area and Pennsylvania. He now performs with Sight & Sound Theatres in Branson, Missouri, helping to bring to life stories from the Bible. 

“Collectively, I want to live my fullest by following Christ,” he said. “Where I am now, the beautiful thing is that I’m able to do both things – we express the Gospel through theatre, so that’s definitely a win-win. I’m able to do what I love and pursue my purpose.” 

His path to spending each day doing what he loves has taken time and every step of his story has been shaped by his Christ-centered worldview. After graduating from HPU, Darren returned to Dallas, where he started a job at Starbucks to fill in the gaps as he auditioned for shows in the area. After spending time working as a barista and looking for parts, he caught a break. 

“I think once you get to a certain point, you are kind of just hoping anything and everything will work,” he said. “I had the opportunity to audition for the concert version of Ragtime the Musical and I got it.” 

Though his journey may not have all the hallmarks of rags-to-riches stories commonly heralded in show business, his story is one of dedicated pursuit of his passion for theatre. 

“Some mornings, I was waking up at about 3 a.m. to get to work,” he said. “When the shift was over around 3 p.m., I would leave Starbucks and make my way to the bus stop to get to the theatre. Rehearsals usually went until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., so I would get home around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. at night and then do it again the next day.”

Over time, he began to find his place in the Dallas theatre community and was offered more roles. Even as more opportunities in theatre became available, he continued to work at Starbucks. While working in two seemingly unrelated fields, he didn’t look past the opportunities for connection that were being presented to him in his current circumstances.

“As followers of Christ, we definitely have a charge to love people,” he said. “So that was my aim, even in the days where I didn’t feel up to it. There were days where I fell short, but, overall, I feel like people could see Christ through me and I was able to build relationships with folks there.”

"If I'm going to be me the entire time - working hard and being someone who has compassion among people - then I have to be able to carry that with me in everything."

This mindset of representing Christ in all that he does is reflected in the sense of purpose he brings to the stage.

“What I look to do as a performer is to be a catalyst of positive change through thought-provoking and life-altering storytelling,” he said. “I’m not above embracing roles of levity to provide sustainable livelihood for myself and my household, but I also have a strong aversion to creatively inept, vain or debased material. Every choice that I make is going to be a sound decision, rooted in agape love and the truth of the life, death and resurrection of the person of Jesus Christ.”

The purpose Darren finds in theatre is inspired by the passion for theatre and performance that he says has always been in his blood.

“I knew I was going to be doing some type of performance, whether that was on stage or not,” he said. “As a kid, I used to create these shows for my family – I guess you could call them sketches or skits – and perform in front of the family and try to get my brother to come along.”

He recognizes the power of storytelling to convey powerful emotion and meaning. This power, combined with his worldview, is what creates his respect for content and calls him to carefully consider what stories he is helping to tell.

An experience he had while performing To Kill a Mockingbird in high school helped influence his perspective on theatre as more than a means to entertain. Due to the play’s content that unambiguously deals with the effects of racism, Darren’s stepfather raised concerns related to his own past growing up in Mississippi.

“My stepfather felt like the play would bring back hurtful memories and painful times,” Darren said. “He took it a step further and asked if I thought that theatre is deception and deceitful. I told him I believe it’s the complete opposite, because I don’t think the creators of whatever piece of art or performance you are taking in look at their creation and believe it to be fake.”

After watching the play, his stepfather expressed a changed viewpoint on theatre.

“He told me he understood why I do what I do,” said Darren. “He also made it clear he supported me, and he did. I think that’s really what pushed me to want to do theatre in a professional capacity, or at least to want to study it.”

In light of this experience, Darren emphasized theatre’s important role in portraying reality.

“One of the great phrases in theatre and the arts is ‘art imitates life.’ That understanding indicates that we wouldn’t have any type of art if it wasn’t for human experience, the human condition and people who have feelings, conversations or go places. When playing a character, I am relaying the truth.”

As a Christian, portraying the truth, especially that found in the Gospel, is of great importance to Darren. Alongside his natural affinity for the theatre, he felt a call to ministry. This meant that finding a university where he could study theology and theatre was the deciding factor in his college search, and HPU fit the bill.

A renewed view of how his calling could be manifested took shape as he began to understand how his gifts could be used in the world of theatre, both on and off the stage.

“Preaching can happen beyond the pulpit,” he said. “It’s such a cool thing that, if I do a show, it doesn’t necessarily have to say Jesus’s name, but because I am a professing Christ-follower I am able to be a light inside of a world that might not even see Jesus. I can be a light among those who don’t know Jesus, who don’t care about Jesus, who may have hurtful relationships within the church or because of being an artist.”

Being a light, he emphasizes, requires a consistency that permeates all aspects of his life.

“If I’m going to be me the entire time – working hard and being someone who has compassion among people – then I have to be able to carry that with me in everything,” he said. “I can’t just set it down and leave it somewhere from time to time. If I do that then I’m losing a piece of myself, and it doesn’t benefit anyone.”

He says remaining true to his identity as something that doesn’t change is vital, regardless of the role he is playing or his station in life.

“My identity is in Christ. He has made me who I am and I don’t lose sight of who I am because of a specific role that I play.”

Photo #1: Darren McElroy graduated from HPU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre in 2011 and now performs with Sight & Sound Theatres in Branson, Missouri. 

Photo #2: Darren McElroy speaks with Dr. Nicholas Ewen ’02, associate professor of theatre, during a seminar for theatre students at HPU held in spring 2021. 

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