I wanted to take a moment to say goodbye to an organization that did so much for me. American Family Theater/American Theater Arts for Youth announced its closure this week in a Facebook post written by their Artistic Director, David Leidholdt. AFT/ATAFY was established in either 1970 or 1971, depending on which website you believe, and lasted for more than forty years as a powerful force for children’s theatre across the country, introducing tens of thousands of children to the magic that is live theatre, and giving over a thousand actors, techs, designers and other staffers the opportunity to go on the road with a national tour, see the country, gain valuable experience, and learn the real ups and downs of the theatre game.
AFT/ATAFY was one of my first professional credits, and my first tour with them, Sleeping Beauty, was one of the greatest experiences of my life. As “Wotan the Wizard” and “Mannequin the Evil Knight” I toured the country from Boston to Texas playing our little show in as many configurations as possible. I saw the Gulf of Mexico for the only time in my life (to date), went to New Orleans right after Mardi Gras, rode out a hurricane in Wilmington, NC, and visited Jefferson Davis’s home, Beauvoir, in Biloxi, Mississippi. I made several lifelong friendships, especially with Chrissie Corbin and David Bickle, and met tons and tons of wonderful children, at least two of which kicked me in the groin. This all thanks to one man, Don Kersey, AFT’s then artistic mover and shaker, taking a chance on me, and the wonderfully batty and saccharine experience that was American Family Theater.
In the mid 2000s when money and opportunity were scarce I called AFT up and offered my services and they were only too happy to put me back to work. I went out on the road three more times with a different show, Babes in Toyland, made several new friends, and then did two Philadelphia-based patriotic shows at the National Liberty Museum, a museum owned by Laurie Wagman’s, (the owner of AFT/ATAFY), husband. I served them for a time as a hotel booker and in and around that managed to music direct seven of the tours that went out over a three year period. Their new Artistic Director, David became a dear friend to me and was a guest at my wedding. Also, in the mid-2000s AFT/ATAFY put my now sister-in-law, Mary Anne Furey, on the road for two tours and, though her experiences were not mine, I know that she gained valuable experience as well and had her eyes opened to parts of America she would never have seen without the opportunity to work for AFT.
So I wanted to say a proper goodbye and thank you to the wonderful, jumbled, frustrating, innocent, and truly magnificent world that was American Family Theater/American Theater Arts for Youth. You changed my life in many ways, opened me up to many new experiences, and ultimately did more for me than can ever be repaid. Thank you for everything. I sincerely hope that something new and wonderful arises to fill the void that children across the county, to say nothing of all the theatre artists, will feel now that you have ceased reminding us of the “magic all around you.”