Tryon – “Tryon Fine Arts Center has been proud to be a part of this adventure,” said Executive Director Marianne Carruth. “It’s been a fantastic opportunity for TFAC’s technical and venue teams to work alongside creative, international artists at the top of their game.”
Aanika’s Elephants, directed by Pam Arciero, tells the story of a young girl who lives at an elephant sanctuary with her father. She befriends an orphaned baby elephant named Little and they grow together the way only two adventurous young girls can, even if one of them has a trunk. The creative team says the play shows young audiences that a family can be anything.
“In a time when children are feeling so much division and stress, Aanika’s Elephants is a play about compassion, love, and conservation,” the creative team explained.
Actress Jimmica Collins leads the cast as Aanika. All other characters, both human and elephant, are brought to life by six professional puppeteers.
The puppets were designed and created by Martin P. Robinson. Robinson created the puppets in the original, Off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors and plays beloved Sesame Street characters Tully and Mr. Snuffleupagus. He used natural materials like ratan and rope to bring the stylized elephant puppets to life.
Aanika’s Elephants was written by playwright and children’s book author Annie Evans. She was inspired to create the story after a visit to an elephant orphanage in Kenya. Evan’s background as a television writer for Sesame Street, Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon helped prepare her to tell the story.
“I think mostly I’m just very comfortable writing with children in mind,” explained Evans. “I try to write strong characters and have them be true to themselves. The big thing when writing for children is that you can’t talk down to them.
“I try to make sure a show like Aanika is action-based, there’s always something happening or something funny going on, and then you sneak in the education, the conservation, and the family story. Children are really great audiences. They’ll tell you if they’re not happy or if they don’t believe you. So that’s why we’ve been so happy to see this great response.”
Robinson and Evans chose Tryon to try out Aanika’s Elephants in front of young audiences before preparing for a run at the New Victory Theater in New York City in March 2024. They found the supportive community made the massive undertaking much easier.
“Our community rose to the occasion with leadership from TFAC’s board of directors, grassroots marketing efforts, and generous philanthropists and business sponsors, all of whom believe in the quality of life available in our foothills,” said TFAC’s Carruth. “Plus, our partners made it possible to offer tickets for only $5 each, drawing full houses of diverse audiences.”
Evans agreed that the enthusiastic audiences were a step in the right direction as the team prepares for their Broadway run and future performances.
“What’s amazing and why we’re all so excited and happy about Tryon is that we just haven’t had the opportunity to put the show in front of an audience of children yet, and this is a play specifically written for families,” said Evans. “We really were able to see how children respond to it for the first time. And that’s been incredible. To see how they stick with it, they aren’t losing interest, they’re staying really focused on it. So that’s just really makes us happy.”