Jane Hirshberg, Storyteller
JANE HIRSHBERG, Community Engagement Manager, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
A while back I was working on a project with a 200-year-old shipyard located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We asked people to share personal stories and historical events from the shipyard. One of the groups we worked with was the Officers’ Wives Club, who had all kinds of stories about the challenges of being in military families, especially when their husbands were on submarines for months at a time.
One day, as he was standing next to a friend at the open locker, the friend asked, “What in the world is all that??” The officer/husband said, “That’s my baby!”
One woman got pregnant just before her husband left on a 10-month tour and every few weeks she would send him a letter with a string inside the envelope. The string measured the circumference of her growing belly … so the string each month was a little longer. Her husband would hang the strings on the inside of his locker door. One day, as he was standing next to a friend at the open locker, the friend asked, “What in the world is all that??” The officer/husband said, “That’s my baby!”
The movement of the string going around the belly to measure its size became one of the gestures in the dance we made with the community, which was performed by a thousand people in the park across from the shipyard. It was the beginning of a new era of community-based art projects over the next 15 years in and around Portsmouth.