The Arts

Women of WWII celebrated in Veteran’s Day production

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No icon better represents the power of women more than Rosie Riveter, proclaiming, “We can do it!” And this Veteran’s Day, The Touring Theatre of North Carolina screams “Yes, they did!” in its production about women stepping up during World War II.

Inspired by archived letters, diaries, wartime posters and more, Star-Spangled Girls highlights the women of WWII, from army nurses and pilots to Red Cross volunteers as they share their memories of enlistment, basic training, service at home and abroad, love and segregation.

The performance is made up entirely of wartime songs and characters recounting their experiences, which were gathered from oral interviews, letters, journals, telegrams and recruitment posters that are in the Betty Carter Women Veterans Historical Collection at Jackson Library, UNC Greensboro.

“It was great fun organizing these materials into a show that pays tribute to these unsung heroines,” said Brenda P. Schleunes, producing artistic director of Touring Theatre of North Carolina. “Unlike other wars, WWII was, for these women, all about patriotism and adventure–and even though some had very difficult and poignant experiences, one could say that they had fun. In many ways they were like college girls who are finally away from home.”

“The war offered the promise of opportunity, adventure, leadership, education and even romance. And it delivered.”

The production is organized into sections: recruitment, enlistment, basic training, service at home, service in Europe and service in the Pacific, all punctuated with the music of WWII. “It was amazing how well the songs matched what the women were experiencing,” Schleunes added.

Schleunes said that adapting and compiling the documents into a fluid production was like fitting together a jigsaw puzzle.

“It is amazing what women did in the war,” said Kay Thomas, actor and production coordinator. “Not only did they work on the home-front, but they were involved in many more aspects. They were nurses and pilots. These were ordinary women who did extraordinary things, especially for their time.”

Each of the five actresses performs as a different character in each section of the play. “The documents were woven together to create these conglomerate characters,” Thomas said. “Everything we say is from actual letters and interviews.”

Thomas performs as three women, including a musician who trained to be a nurse specifically to serve in the war. She meets and falls in love with a young man named Joe. “I loved reading the letters; it’s a sweet love story,” she said.

The production was inspired by a research project that began in 1998, when Betty Carter, the founder of the Women Veterans Historical Project, was the university archivist.

“In doing some research I realized that we had no information on the history of the women who came to Woman’s College (now UNCG) on the GI Bill after WWII,” Carter said. “After doing a bit more research, I found very little historical information was available on any women who served in the military in WWII. And that is how the project began.”

The goal was to provide a research collection that would recognize the women and what they did. Carter worked to uncover oral histories and documents covering all branches–WAC, WAVES, WASP, SPARs, USMC, Army and Navy Nurse Corps, US Air Corps, and Red Cross.

“I strongly believe that the role of women in any endeavor is often overlooked or ignored–and this was certainly true when it came to these women. Just recently, the family of a WASP had to fight to have her ashes interred at Arlington–the Secretary of the Army did not think she ranked as military.”

By creating this research collection, Carter hoped writers, students and researchers would use the collected material to write their books, college papers, newspaper and magazine articles and plays, which is how Star Spangled-Girls was born.

“(The play) saves history and it recognizes the women,” Carter said. “I admire these women so much. When I see the play I can hear the actual woman saying the words. I learned to know and admire them.”

Wanna go? Star-Spangled Girls is performing Friday, Nov. 11, at the UpStage Cabaret in Triad Stage, 232 S. Elm St., Greensboro. Tickets are $24; $20 for veterans. For tickets visit triadstage.org/tickets or call 336-272-0160. For more information visit ttnc.org.

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