Storytelling Review: “Safe and Sound. Letter to Follow,” by Stephanie Holman

Storyteller Stephanie HolmanStorytelling is my performance art of choice, so it is fitting that my first review for “Indy Theatre Habit” is a review of a new storytelling piece by one of my favorite tellers.

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 also encouraged everyone to honor all veterans by learning about them.  “Visit the USS Indianapolis Museum here in Indy, for example, or go to the Ernie Pyle Home in Dana, Indiana.”

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 –

13 thoughts on “Storytelling Review: “Safe and Sound. Letter to Follow,” by Stephanie Holman”

  1. sounds like a really powerful event. i saw steph today and she seemed relieved and happy to have such a huge project completed. wish i could’ve seen it. i hear there’s a recording, though, so maybe i’ll get to check it out that way.

    (the site looks good, by the way!)

  2. Steph’s show was VERY powerful.

    Hey, thanks, Ned, for being the first person other than myself to comment on my new blog! And thanks again for your help in installing WordPress. Yesterday I kept getting kicked off, which was frustrating, but I think it was a problem with the server rather than the software. Anyway, today (knock on wood) – no problems. The next thing I would like to do in terms of developing the look and organization of the blog is to find the right spam-prevention widget so that people can leave comments without having to wait for me to approve them.

    But before that, I am going to go see another show and write about it! I love my life!

  3. Yay, Hope is back! I’m so glad to see you’re blogging again.

    This show sounds great, too. I love the way you write reviews–I always wish I’d been there with you.


  4. Thanks, Priscilla! I am glad to be back in touch with you, too!

    I am planning to attend your long stories weekend this spring, although I have not yet sent Cynthia my check. I hope there are still spaces! (Note to self: do that today!)

    Thanks, again, Priscilla.

  5. Glad to see you blogging again, Hope!
    And maybe I’ll even make it to the Indy Fringe one of these years.

    Question for you: would theatre fans have recognized Sally’s performance as theatre? Or would they call it something else?
    You know what storytelling is– you’re familiar with it. You know what theatre is. Did this show fit under both tents?

  6. Hi, Tim! Thanks for stopping by!

    Your question is a good one. Although there are obvious overlaps, I think of storytelling as something different from theatre. Sometimes I say “oral tradition storytelling” to help differentiate it in conversation.

    However, I wanted to include storytelling reviews in my blog and “performance art” included too many other things (dance, music concerts, etc.) for me, so I lumped storytelling under theatre as a way of emphasizing the performance aspect of it.

    I’ll want to write more about this later, I’m sure. And did I see in that whole slew of blog-related posts on the Storytell list that you have a blog, too? I’ll look forward to reading it.

    Thanks again for stopping by!

  7. Hope,
    I am a storyteller at a loss for words. The way you captured my work that day is remarkable. I believe this must surely be my first written review and if it is the last, well just fine, it is perfect.
    I am especially appreciative of your notes about the veterans as I wanted them to feel appreciated.
    I will be telling it around the state of Indiana now and I hope for many more veterans in the crowd.
    I did try to make my comments about the current war non-judgemental. Not an easy thing to do, but how could I conclude and not mention that we are currently at war in two countries?
    Hope, your support means so much to me and I look forward to reading more of your adventures on the blog.

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