Keith Henley might not seem like the acting type. He studied chemistry, biology and mathematics, after all. But he loves history.
Acting — with a huge helping of history — is Henley’s career, now.
He’s into writing, choreography and everything else theater. One reason?
“I’ve always enjoyed telling stories,” Henley said.
Henley told his newest story Wednesday night to a crowd of 750 people during the 2017 High Plains Chautauqua, unveiling for just the second time his portrayal of Sgt. Henry Johnson, a heroic black World War I soldier who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in 2015.
Johnson is now one of more than a dozen historic figures Henley portrays as part of his work with historical theater troupes out of Philadelphia.
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Henley answered a variety of questions about his career, as well as Sgt. Johnson below:
Question — I imagine this kind of acting takes quite a bit of research. How much work is it?
Answer — A true historian will be reading for a year or longer. If there’s a lot of information about the person, it makes it a lot easier, because there are so many different references. If there is very little information about the person, such as Henry Johnson, then your research is dealing with the time frame. You’ll never stop studying, because somebody’s gonna ask the question, and you’ll be like, “I didn’t think of that; that’s a good question.”
Q — Do you have a favorite historical figure to portray?
A — No. One of the most popular personas I do is Henry Box Brown (A 19th Century Virginia slave who escaped by mailing himself to Philadelphia). There’s a…
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