WAPAKONETA — It’s 1989. Neil Armstrong is answering questions from the crowd at a media event as a favor for NASA, and he’d rather be somewhere else.
That’s the setup for Chris Hart’s one-man show scheduled for tonight, when he takes the stage as a Neil Armstrong impersonator equipped with anecdotes, histories and Armstrong’s sometimes terse manner.
“When I started looking into him, I found that he was such a quiet and private individual,” Hart said. “He gets a bit annoyed at the questions. … That comes across in the portrayal. He’s no real friend of media.”
But while Hart works to be historically accurate, it’s not his primary goal. The Tuesday night event aims more to entertain, and Hart has had plenty of practice.
The college professor and storyteller has roughly 50 characters he has developed in the past dozen years — each one created to act as a type of living history — with most of them categorized as “normal” people who have lived in decades past.
“I take something that I happen to be interested in and try to find a story,” Hart said. “It’s a hobby.”
Hart originally got into the business of historical impersonations at a living history site where he acted as a country doctor. Upon finishing the gig, the event left an impression, and he’s since adapted stories of Titanic survivors, John F. Kennedy’s surgeon, World War I veterans and canal boat captains as well as fictional characters, like Ichabod Crane from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Neil Armstrong, however, is an exception.
Hart began working on an Armstrong show after reading the official biography of Armstrong, “First Man,” roughly three years ago. Additional research fleshed out Armstrong’s character and led Hart to choose the faux 1989 press conference as the show’s format, and Hart uses “questions from the audience” written out on cards as a guide to transition between anecdotes throughout the one-man show.
“They aren’t actual questions from the audience. They are my questions, and it enables me to tell a story,” Hart said.
Some anecdotes Hart plans to tell include some of Armstrong’s life at Purdue University, his relationship with his family and the wider world’s reception to the moon landing, which helped define Armstrong’s relationship with the media. Upon leaving quarantine three weeks after the moon landing, Hart said Armstrong returned home to find a legion of journalists camping on his front lawn, and he had to race inside and lock the door to avoid any attention. In his later life, Armstrong often refused interviews with reporters.
“He was very quiet. To him, (getting to the moon) was a job to be done,” Hart said. “That’s why they picked him to lead the mission. He was cool and calm and collected.”
As for performing in Armstrong’s hometown, Hart said he’s excited to hear any feedback about his portrayal of Armstrong from the people who may have known him.
“He was a delightful character to do, and I’m very excited to be doing it in his hometown,” Hart said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.