On Sunday, January 27, 2008, storyteller Stephanie Holman shared for the first time a 2-hour piece called “Safe and Sound. Letter to Follow: Stories of Hoosiers at Home and War During WWII.” Storytelling Arts of Indiana and the Indiana Historical Society collaborated to commission the piece for their 9th Annual Sharing Hoosier History Through Stories event. Holman presented it on the Frank and Katrina Basile stage at the Indiana History Center.
On the stage were a round table and two chairs from the History Center’s archival reading room, plus a library cart and a bookshelf. On the table were a special book holder and a laptop computer. Behind and above all of this was a large screen.
Holman came out wearing an elegant black velvet pantsuit topped with a silver and black tapestry jacket. She told of how exciting it had been for her to spend hundreds of hours in the History Center’s library, pouring over its wealth of primary source material such as letters and photos. Both her outfit and her tone of voice conveyed both respect for, and excitement about, the material and subjects she had examined.
But she did more than examine them. She took her own deep connection to the material, added carefully selected excerpts, shaped them into stories, and then shaped those stories into one vibrant, well-balanced, and satisfying narrative to help the audience understand that Hoosiers were involved in every aspect, every theater, of the Second World War.
Holman introduced us to individual men, women, teens, and children. Blacks and whites. People in the trenches and people on the home front. Most of these people were known only in their home towns, but Holman also introduced us to the famous war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, who was also from Indiana. Through Holman’s well-crafted storytelling, we shared these Hoosiers’ hopes and fears, their daily lives in stressful times, their humanity. I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud several times in recognition, as well as gasping in sympathy and tearing up in sorrow and gratitude.
Even more than the excellent story crafting itself, I admired Holman’s use of storytelling to build community. Towards the end of the first segment, she introduced two veterans whom she knew were in the audience and asked if there were any others present. After we clapped for all of them, Holman reminded us that “the best storytelling happens during intermission!” While standing in line at the refreshments table, I overheard people talking about their own World War Two experiences and those of their families. I made a mental note to call my father when I got home. I’d like to hear some more about his and his father’s experiences in the Navy.
The two hours flew by. In closing, Holman said that she wished she could end on a happy note but we were all going back out into a country that is again at war. She was careful not to make any judgment about the current war but she said that what the two wars have in common is individuals making sacrifices and people on the home front anxiously awaiting their return.
She asked us to think about what the primary sources would be from this war, and encouraged all of us to collect and save what we could. I imagined printing out emails, for example.
She said to the veterans present, “There would be no stories without your actions. Librarians, archivists, storytellers…all of us want to honor you, and we promise we will keep your stories alive.”
As I left the theatre, I heard someone laugh and say, “Once upon a time there was a great big war…” But she was complimenting Holman for managing to leave us both satisfied and wanting more.
This and other “Sharing Hoosier History” storytelling programs are available for performance throughout the state. For information about hiring a storyteller, call Storytelling Arts of Indiana at 317-576-9848. If you have primary source material that you would like to donate to the Indiana History Center’s library, call 234-0321 to see if it fits the library’s collection development guidelines.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com