One-act play by Perham's Chuck Johnson to hit the road all across Minnesota
Johnson recently received full funding from the Minnesota Legacy grants program to perform "The Night Before Gettysburg" at various venues across the state.
PERHAM — Soon, people all across the state of Minnesota will see the original one-act play written and performed by Perham's own Chuck Johnson. Thanks to full funding provided by the Minnesota Legacy grants program, Johnson will perform "The Night Before Gettysburg" at four schools, four nursing homes and one public venue all across the state.
"I was so shocked when (Minnesota Legacy) said yes," Johnson shared. "I knew I had a good app, and I thought I had done a good (pitch), but there was a five-to-one ratio (for applicants versus recipients). They could choose zero funding, full or anything in between. I was hoping for half. And they went for the full bore. It was really cool."
Of course, none of this would have been possible if Johnson hadn't written "The Night Before Gettysburg," a dramatic piece of theater detailing Abraham Lincoln's emotions and thoughts as he finishes the Gettysburg Address the night before his speech. Several different things led to him being struck with inspiration.
Though Johnson has a long history in theater, he had to stop performing around 2015 due to hearing loss. Of course, he missed performing, so once he attended the Madhatters One Act Showcase, a one-act play competition in Wadena, he was struck with an idea.
"I attended, and I said, 'Holy cow that was cool. I want to participate in that,'" Johnson remembered. "I just sort of grabbed out of the sky (the idea) about the Gettysburg Address — finishing writing it. I didn't know anything about it, and I started delving into it. The drama is just unbelievable."
Not only did he write the drama, but he returned to the one-act competition to perform "The Night Before Gettysburg," winning Best Lead Actor, Best Original Script and first place for Outstanding Play . Though it felt like a long process, it was only the beginning of the journey for Johnson. Just a few days later, he was asked to perform his play in 2022 for the 159th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg at Gettysburg itself.
"Before I went out there, I was really intimidated," Johnson remembered. "I'm going to have people sitting in that audience who are deep Lincoln, deep Gettysburg people, and it's like I'm a high schooler talking to a college professor … But it went very well."
He performed "The Night Before Gettysburg" at the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church, which is known to have hosted a rally that Abraham Lincoln himself attended. In fact, the pew on which he sat is still in the church.
"It was like: 'So I'm Abraham Lincoln, at Gettysburg, on the anniversary, at the church,'" Johnson shared, still amazed. "And it was really humbling."
After performing at Gettysburg, Johnson was still hungry for more. He wanted to bring the story of the Gettysburg Address and Abraham Lincoln to a wider and broader audience. So, when he learned that there was a veteran nursing home in Fergus Falls, he knew he needed to perform there.
He didn't know what to expect performing at a nursing home, but the experience blew him away. One man stopped Johnson in the hall to tell him all about how one of his ancestors debated Lincoln in the Senate.
During his performance, Johnson even noticed one man angrily shaking his head as Lincoln reflected on just how many people had died at Gettysburg.
"I deliver the line, I catch his eye, and he's just (angry)," Johnson said. "This is a veteran nursing home, and he's been there. And Abraham Lincoln just told him that 11,000 soldiers died at Gettysburg, and he's just livid — shaking his head, disgusted."
Johnson talked about these amazing experiences in his Minnesota Legacy interview. Clearly, he must have impressed the judges. Normally, Minnesota Legacy asks new applicants to propose no more than six total venues. Johnson knew he was asking a lot to perform at four nursing homes, four schools and one public venue. But yet, they provided him with full funding.
Throughout the next year, Johnson will perform "The Night Before Gettysburg" throughout Minnesota in Luverne, Silver Bay, Minneapolis, Evansville, Hastings and more. For more information about the play, or to see a video of Johnson's performance, visit lincolnspeech.com .
"It's an amazing thing," Johnson said. "I've had some pretty cool things happening with it."