GREENFIELD — When Donna Steele saw “Digging in Their Heels” at the 2018 Indy Fringe Festival, she knew she had to bring Sally Perkins’ one-woman show to Greenfield.
“She was very energetic,” said Steele, communications chairwoman for the League of Women Voters for Hancock County. “She brought characters from 100 years ago to life.”
At 7 p.m. on Saturday (Sept. 21), the League of Women Voters will present, “Digging in Their Heels,” a one-woman show that recounts the history of how women fought for and won the right to vote in America.
Performed by Sally Perkins, an adjunct professor at Butler University and the faculty director of the Speakers Lab tutoring center, the show runs one hour and shines a light on women who were instrumental in the suffrage movement.
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Perkins credits Storytelling Arts of Indiana with giving her a start in the art of storytelling.
“I would have never known about it or developed myself as a storyteller if not for Storytelling Arts,” Perkins said. “The whole thing has kind of been a dream-come-true. It’s been really fun to see it come to fruition.”
Years ago, Perkins recalls, Storytelling Arts put out a call for people to tell stories at Riley Children’s Hospital. Feeling that reading books to children was in her skill set, Perkins volunteered. She quickly found out, however, that it was story-telling she’d volunteered to do and not story-reading.
Perkins’ public speaking credentials, combined with a performance background, help her bring an artistry to her storytelling. She must have been a stand-out storyteller because she began to get some performance opportunities around the area at conferences, luncheons, churches and libraries.
As part of Storytelling Arts and a partnership with the Indiana Historical Society, Perkins crafts together and performs a story related to Indiana history including stories about Hinkle Fieldhouse and John Dillinger.
Although many of Perkins’ past historical storytelling experiences have included research, “Digging in Her Heels” has been the most comprehensive. Assembling the stories and research into the performance took a year, Perkins said, but her interest in the topic has been with her since graduate school, where she first encountered the history of how women won the right to vote.
“I was amazed that I didn’t know anything about it until then,” Perkins said.
Perkins’ goal is to cover all the history in 60 minutes in a way that captivates the 21st century audience. For example, it might be difficult to relate to a sepia-toned photo of Susan B. Anthony, but by equating Anthony to Professor McGonagle — a character from the Harry Potter books and movies — audiences now have a frame of reference.
“She’s just like her,” Perkins said, comparing McGonagle to Susan B. Anthony. “Super-smart, articulate and also school-marmish.”
The production features a prominent set piece: including a giant map with an interactive timeline that changes as the story progresses so, Perkins said, her audience never has to try and remember where they are on the timeline and who they’re hearing about.
Perkins doesn’t play any of the characters herself, but she narrates the story. She loves the relationship a storyteller has with the audience.
“When you become a character,” she said, “there’s that fourth (invisible) wall that puts a different spin on the intimacy of being directly connected to the audience.”
Perkins’ performance pulls no punches and meets the issues head on, nor does it shy away from the racism of the suffragettes who were concerned about extending voting rights to women who were not literate.
“The race issues are difficult and complicated,” Perkins admits. “White women completely abandoned their black sisters.”
Steele has high hopes for Perkins’s performance in Greenfield.
“It’s great to remind people that nobody gave women the right to vote,” Steele said. “They went to jail to get the vote, they were beaten to get the vote, and they were ostracized to get the vote. It wasn’t handed to them on a silver platter. They fought for it.”
Since performing at the 2018 Indy Fringe Festival, where it was one of the top-selling shows of the theater showcase event, Perkins has played more than a dozen venues around the country, some as far away as Florida and California.
Following her performance in Greenfield, Perkins will be taking her one-woman show to New York City in October to perform in United Solo, the world’s largest solo theater festival.
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"Digging in Their Heels" is a one-woman show performed by Sally Perkins at 7 p.m. Sept. 21 at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. in Greenfield.
Tickets are $10 in advance at september21.eventbrite.com or $15 at the door
Sponsored by the League of Women Voters Hancock County