Filed under: Merrimack Repertory Theatre
AN INTERVIEW WITH ACTRESS AND USO LIBERTY BELL, HANLEY SMITH
We sat down with Hanley Smith to discuss her role as a USO Liberty Bell in New York and how it has inspired her role as Sally Middleton in Voice of the Turtle.
How did you get involved in the USO? How long have you been a member?
A very dear friend of mine, Manna Nichols, is a Liberty Bell, and she recommended that I audition. I was invited to join in July.
What do you do as a USO girl?
We’re an international touring group that performs songs spanning 8 decades for the troops and their families while also serving as ambassadors for the USO itself.
What do the USO girls of WWII have in common with those volunteering today?
Well, actually, the Liberty Bells weren’t founded until well after WWII, but they are a kind of tribute to the likes of the Andrews Sisters, who toured with Bob Hope and performed for the troops overseas. All artists who have the privilege of performing for the military are given such a rare, humbling, inspiring point of view when we look out at their faces. We entertain to show our gratitude, but the appreciation these men and women show, for something so simple, while they are risking everything for the preservation of our freedom and safety, is unlike anything I have ever experienced.
What inspired you to join the USO?
I have two grandfathers who served in the military — one in the Army and one in the Marine Corps — and several friends who either have served or are continuing to serve. I wanted to be a part of the USO to honor them the best way that I know how.
Do you take any experiences from your work with service members into account while playing the role of Sally?
Absolutely. Most people nowadays aren’t often in the presence of service men and women, but I have the opportunity to see them almost every day. Hearing their stories has given me a little bit of access to what it must have been like for girls like Sally. She’s living in NYC, surrounded by soldiers who at any point could be shipped off to who-knows-what terrors, including this wonderful man, Bill Page. Being around soldiers somehow makes me stand up a little straighter, listen a little closer, and open my heart a little more, which are all things that feel very true for Sally. There is also such a sense of weight and respect for what Bill is willing to fight for; it heightens every moment for me.
How often do you attend USO events?
Well, it depends on the event. The USO of Metropolitan New Year, out of which the Liberty Bells are based, hosts an unbelievable number of events, from bike builds with local volunteers and troops in our Port Authority offices, to care package stuffing marathons with Bank of America and the Yankees franchise. The Liberty Bells most often perform for specific occasions such as Fleet Week and Veterans Day, but you can find us, and the USO, almost anywhere, anytime.
What is your favorite part about working with the USO?
The people. Every single person I have encountered — at the office, in the troupe, at each event — has warmed my heart and challenged me to lead the kind of life worth fighting for, worth preserving. They all inspire me to give and give more, and that is, conversely, the very best gift that I can imagine.
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