On the job: Artistic director
This month I spoke with Irving Truitt, founder and artistic director of ANFO (A Name For Ourselves).
Q How did you get started running a theater company?
A We got our start in 1988 as a children's theater company. What I was aspiring to do was to provide quality entertainment at an affordable price and to have professionals working with kids. Our first show was “Wizard of the Cause” by Dr David Robertson; it was a seriocomedy. We added the adult theater component in 2000.
Q So did you develop the idea for starting a theater company after college graduation or while you were in college?
A I had the idea when I was in fourth grade! I was a natural ham and always liked performing. But I didn't alway have to be the lead—I was always happy just to be in the production. I started a drama club at Brogden Middle School when I was in seventh grade. I stayed with it and got my BA in theater at NCCU (North Carolina Central University). I did get the lead in Dream Girls at NCCU, and because it was a student production I'd stay until 3 and 4 in the morning, hanging lights, painting the set, designing the costumes. … It was hard work but I loved it.
Then I got my master’s degree at Cambridge College (in Massachusetts) in integrated studies—that’s using the arts as a means to educate. My concentration was in children’s theater.
Q So then you moved back here and started ANFO?
A No, I went to New York for 15 years! I did some off-Broadway work like “Raisin in the Sun” and “The Mayor's Wife.” I was also teaching children's theater at an elementary school in Brooklyn. I had started a theater group called It’s Kids Company while I was a student at NCCU in 1989. Then while I was in New York, I founded
ANFO (A Name For Ourselves)—when I came back to Durham I started a theater and kept the ANFO name. What we’re doing this summer, and we’ve been doing this for years, is the ANFO Performing Arts Summer Camp.
Q Tell me more about ANFO.
A Well, it's all about the children—we give them an outlet and a chance to express themselves. It's really interesting to see the wide variety of children who join us. Our motto explains that we're “Bringing out the gifts.” We've had children who were real introverts at first but they really came out of their shell. All of us have the ability to be creative, and our children today need creative play more than ever. Another of our goals is to motivate students to want to learn more.
Q I was watching the kids in your ANFO Summer Camp rehearsing just now. What show are you working on?
A “The Wiz,” a modern adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz.” We’re working on the date, but so far we think we’ll be performing it at the Hayti Heritage Center around July 18. I’ll let you know. Our group ranges from five years old up to 15, and the kids are really enjoying it. They get to work with real professionals who are teaching them so much—acting (interpretation and learning their lines), dance (choreography), and music. They’re learning how to sing and dance and put everything together.
Q What are your future goals—for your company and yourself?
A My immediate plans for my adult theater is to put on “Going Homeless” later this year. I'd like to see us go on a college tour throughout the southeastern USA. Hopefully, we can also do “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” I’m now working on a holiday season play centered on the great-grandniece of Ebenezer Scrooge ) from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
I’m also interested in screenwriting. The next phase of my personal career will be having three of my screenplays—“Four Flat,” “Klick,” and “Broken Silence”— produced as movies.
Q If someone wants to audition for one of your plays, or if they want to sign up their kids, how can they get in touch with you?
A Soon we’re going to start all-age workshops about navigating the entertainment business—headshots (portraits), auditions, explaining the difference between managers and agents, and how to avoid scams in the entertainment business. So our website is anfo.us, or people can call us at 919-408-1174. We'll be holding auditions soon!