Zoo, Arts & Parks Blog
How admittedly cheesy humor fosters transformation
I had been a patron of the Off Broadway Theatre for more than 15 years before
I learned that the name of the theatre came from the fact that 300 South in
Salt Lake City, just around the corner from our 272 S. Main entrance, was also
named “Broadway.” Okay, now I get it!
Frankly, I had thought the name came from the fact that everything
about this theatre is a little bit “off.” The humor is cheesy, the sets are
simple, the “special effects” are anything but. I’ve often told people that the
only thing classy about the joint is the way we spell “Theatre.”
OBT's original parody, Transformers, runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays, August 5 through September 10.
But what OBT lacks in show biz glamour and big production budgets is
more than made up for by the energy, the attitude, and the feeling of family shared by our cast, our crew, and
our audiences. For this I credit our founders, Eric and Sandy Jensen.
People who enjoy zany, improv-laden, bad-pun-dripping, physical and verbal
comedy absolutely love our shows, and come back time and again. And soon, they
feel right at home, enveloped in both the madcap humor and the warm welcome of
acceptance that permeates the OBT.
Take for example, Andy. (I’ve changed his name, to protect his
privacy.) To most of us, Andy was just another kid in our cast—a new friend to
joke around with and to spend time with. We didn’t know his back story: all we
knew was that he was a dedicated, responsible boy who learned and performed his
part well and always seemed happy at rehearsals and performances.
But, after the show closed, we got the following note from his parents:
first heard about your theater through friends, and thoroughly enjoyed the
experience so much we ended up purchasing season tickets! At the end of
one of your shows, it was announced that there were open casting calls for all
ages at an upcoming performance. My 12 year old son begged if
he could audition. With no previous experience, we weren't sure what the
chances were of him being cast, but decided it would be a good experience for
summer he went through some difficult times in his relationship with
his non-custodial father. His confidence was shattered, his self-esteem
diminished. It was heart wrenching for all of us to work through, and we were
concerned how he would further be affected if he did not make the
story short, he was cast in an Off Broadway Theatre original parody! His entire
demeanor changed and he instantly believed in himself again. Each week he
looked forward to every rehearsal, he quickly formed a bond with the cast that
was very encouraging and welcoming of him. He would tell others he loved it so
much because everyone there was like his family.
wanted to personally thank you for the opportunity that was
provided, and let you know how this experience positively made a difference in
the course of our son's life. He is back to himself and seems to have a new
perspective on life. He is getting better grades in school and we truly believe
this small part he played in the show was the stepping stone he needed to
re-build his self-esteem. He has since joined Center Stage Players to
continue his development in the art, and is flourishing immensely.
again, we express our deepest gratitude.
Wow! When we got that email,
our hearts were touched. The next time I filled out an application for ZAP
funds and saw the question “What value does the community receive from your
activities?” I thought of Andy, and I shared his story.
OBT plays and our in-house
improv comedy troupe, Laughing Stock, are all about fun and comedy and
laughter. Our mission is to share that laughter and that zest for life with
everyone—those in a great mood having a wonderful week, as well as those who
are going through hard times or suffering from being dealt a rotten hand in
The stories go on and on: the
“wish child” from Make-A-Wish Utah who got to come up onstage and perform in a
Laughing Stock skit . . . the artist on disability who thanked us for “allowing”
him to help build sets, who has become a valued member of our stage crew . . . the
actor in Chicago who recently wrote about the time he played a train in an OBT show, and said that
watching the other actors improvise on our stage taught him a sense of freedom
that has made him a better performer.
We partner with several
local nonprofit organizations that serve children and adults struggling with
various challenges, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, YouthCare, HopeKids,
Odyssey House, and Student Veterans of America. We provide them with free or
discounted tickets for their clients, and have enjoyed hearing the stories of the
wonderful time they have at our shows. What a great family to be a part of!
As one who has performed
and teched in countless shows in a variety of theaters, I know how fun being in
a play can be. But I also know how unique the Off Broadway Theatre is, and I’m
so grateful to be a part of the OBT family. We appreciate Salt Lake County’s Zoo,
Arts, and Parks program—and the citizens and taxpayers of Salt Lake County—for supporting
our operations. Through OBT and other ZAP-supported organizations, ZAP truly is
serving and benefiting families and individuals in our community.
Let me conclude by sharing
one more letter from an appreciative parent:
Dear Eric and
Last Saturday my family and I had the
opportunity to go and watch the Peter Pan and the Pirates play on the 2:00 pm
function thanks to your support. We have never had the chance to take our
children to an event like this one, and we weren't sure what to expect. Well,
my kids had such a great time, and I laughed out loud so much, that I forgot
for couple of hours about our daily routine with the kids (I have two children
with spinal muscular atrophy), and we just enjoyed our time there at the OBT!
What a great time we had! And all thanks to you!
May God keep blessing you and your family with
this enormous talent and hearts, we certainly appreciate it!
So, maybe the Off Broadway
Theatre is a little “off.” We go off book. We break the fourth wall. We
sometimes get more laughs out of forgetting our lines than from delivering them
But when it comes to what
really matters: family, community, service—all the things that ZAP is about—we
couldn’t be more “on.”
OBT Fever: Catch it!
Jeff Driggs is on the OBT board, and has had the pleasure of performing in a few of their shows.
A Tasty Ticket Tuesday Giveaway
A winner has been chosen for the free VIP passes to the Wasatch International Food Festival presented by the Utah Cultural Celebration Center (August 19-20)!
Thanks for all that participated! We hope you'll still attend this event and check out the variety of foods our community has to offer! Visit the festival website here for more details.
Orchestra program makes Salt Lake City's west-side sing
“I must study politics and war that my sons may
have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study
mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture,
navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right
to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and
I come from a family of
My aunts and uncles can tell me what the ports they left from in Calabria, Italy or Colon, Panama or Havana, Cuba smelled like – preserving
details and turning them to folklore is a family pastime. Once they passed
through Ellis Island, they assumed their new “Americanized” last names and took
every path toward assimilation possible – including banning the speaking of any
language other than English for the generations who would be lucky enough to be
born in the new land of promise. Their sacrifices were numerous and have reaped
cumulative rewards. I stand as evidence that their hard work and harder decisions
have a positive impact.
This story is generations old
for my family. But, everyday it plays out anew for those who have arrived more
recently and are navigating the rigorous landscape of maximizing their
experience for the benefit of the generations that will come after. These
families comprise a large number of those served by the Salty Cricket Composers
Collective’s educational outreach program, GraceNotes.
At Jackson Elementary School
Based at Jackson Elementary
School in the Fairpark community west of downtown Salt Lake City, GraceNotes
uses the El Sistema model to promote positive social change and empowerment
through rigorous, high quality music education. There are several distinctions
about an El Sistema model, which can be found at the El Sistema USA
website – but the main points are that we use the orchestra from the very first day as a microcosm of society in
order to help participants learn the importance of the pursuit of individual
and corporate excellence; we are seeking to create empowered citizens, rather than just skillful performers through
intensive and comprehensive musical and character training; we aim to use music
and its power in communities’ lives to create a richer, more powerful
experience for families and children alike by fostering significant cross
cultural exchange, instead of merely token exchanges. And, after completing our
pilot program, we can affirm wholeheartedly: IT WORKS!
The Story of S
Take for instance the case of
a boy we’ll simply call “S.” S had a reputation when his mother signed him up
for our program. He had been known to throw classroom furniture when
frustrated. His mother’s motivation when she signed him up was simply trying to
avoid the many negative possibilities that exist for angry young people with
unsupervised hours. His motivation for attending was keeping his parents off
his back at home. No matter the case, the first 4.5 months was hard for
everyone. S was an obstructionist during our program, his mother was disconnected,
and our teaching staff was at their wits' end trying to figure out how to
motivate S while meeting the needs of our other students in the classroom.
One day, in a desperate
attempt to make this arrangement work, I offered S a position in our advanced
ensemble, enumerating the new responsibilities that would come along with that
offer. Lo and behold, the offering of something to him that he had not earned,
but was being freely given to him eventually proved to be a turning point. S
took seriously his responsibility within our program, practiced above and
beyond what was expected, improved classroom behavior, and aimed to live up to
our programmatic expectations.
Of course, generally these sorts of changes
don't happen easily. Over spring break, S went missing. His panicked parents
contacted my husband and I at 9 pm, asking for his last known whereabouts and
eagerly accepting our offers to canvas the neighborhood for him. As I walked with S’s mother and another mother
from our program, I learned that S had spent time in Guatemala with an aunt,
waiting for his family to bring him and his 7 brothers to the US. During that
time, he had already been recruited by a cartel – at the age of 8. Since his
arrival in the US, S had been lashing out in anger, refusing to communicate,
and demonstrating a terrifying level of apathy towards his family. His mother
had consulted counselors, teachers, and a variety of professionals, to no
During our 900th
lap of the darkened west side streets, S appeared at home. When the search
party ran to see him and find out where he had been, we found a defiant young
man, unwilling to share any information. I reached out to him, telling him how
much his presence means to me and to his peers and that he has a value that
cannot be communicated. He shed one tear from each eye, and leaned in to hug me.
His mother reports it was the first sign of emotion and connection she had seen
from him in 3 years.
Over the final 2 months of
the pilot program, S improved exponentially in all ways possible. He went on to
become a true leader in the program. He would stay late to put away music
stands and instruments. He asked the violin teaching artist for extra time with
her so he could learn quicker. He “won” our first ever “blind audition” for a
solo. He showed up at my house on holidays so he could practice with us. He
reportedly became a more engaged student during the school day – he even earned
honor roll his last quarter.
S is now ready to move on to
middle school. He’s already planning his route home, so that he can stop in and
participate in any way possible with us at Jackson during the school year. He’s
also taken the initiative to start his musical career at his new school during
their summer program. His mother called me today to verify that the reason he
woke up and got out of the house earlier than anyone else was because he came
to our summer program. She keeps me in her phone and knows she’s not alone in
her pursuit to help her son build a future for himself.
It is a special and humbling
experience to see the power of music impacting lives and helping preserve that
most American of dreams: that those who come here seeking an empowered future
for generations to come are able to accomplish it. While John Adams envisioned
at least 3 generations before music would be on the horizon, we’re skipping
ahead a bit. We are using music as a means of helping families – particularly
those who have arrived here recently – achieve futures that are empowered and
prosperous. And, the story of S is just the tip of the iceberg – we’ve got
other stories that pack as much punch. We can’t wait to see how the growth of
our program continues to spell the growth of opportunities for these young
people, and fulfill the visions of those who sacrifice for them!
Victoria Petro-Eschler is the
Executive Director of the Salty Cricket Composers Collective. She is devoted to
the ideal of using music as a powerful influence in the life of her community
and giving voice to the voiceless – a mission instilled in her by her
background in music therapy, musicology, and nonprofit management. Victoria is
proud to be a part of the vibrant Salt Lake community and is enthusiastic about
the possibilities presented for the future through high quality arts education.
Ticket Tuesday Giveaway with Midvale Arts Council
A winner has been chosen for this week's giveaway to see CHESS THE MUSICAL, presented by Midvale Arts Council. If you'd still like to attend, check out their website here for ticket details!
Salt Lake Acting Company on its collaborative adventure: 'CLIMBING WITH TIGERS'
March 2016, Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC), in conjunction with Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory and Red Fred Project, produced a world
premiere play unlike any other. CLIMBING
WITH TIGERS came to life onstage
through the imagination and bravery of Nathan Glad, the creativity and
compassion of Dallas Graham and the Red Fred Project, and the collaboration and
innovation of Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory and Salt Lake Acting Company.
Never before in SLAC’s history has one project brought together so many
creative community partners.
About Nathan Glad
Glad is a 9-year-old firecracker – smart as a whip, total crowd-pleaser, and
wise beyond his years. Nathan was born with a disease called Osteogenesis
Imperfecta, more commonly known as brittle bones disease. He breaks his bones
on average once a month – usually a long bone like a femur or humerus. He has
been through a dozen surgeries in his short life to place rods in his legs and
arms. Nathan’s biggest goal right now is to walk. He works through physical
therapy to get to the point where he can stand and, hopefully, someday take his
About Red Fred Project
Red Fred Project was started by artist and ‘idea man’ Dallas
Graham in 2010. He had created the colorful, adventurous Jolly Troop – a flock of bird
friends all formed out of commas and exclamation points from different fonts –
but wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. Dallas decided to use these birds to
help tell the stories of children with critical illnesses. Nathan Glad was Red
Fred Project’s first “creative” (what Dallas calls his young authors) and his
story “Climbing With Tigers” was its first published book.
About Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory
Robert Scott Smith and Alexandra Harbold are local actors
and directors who share an eye for theatrical imagery and an appetite for
performance-based work. Together they formed Flying Bobcat Theatrical
Laboratory, dedicated to exploring the possibilities of storytelling in
performance through language, movement, technology, and design.
The process of taking 'CLIMBING WITH TIGERS' from the page to the stage
When the brains behind Red Fred Project and Flying Bobcat first
hatched the idea of turning Nathan’s book into a play, the playwright that came
to mind to adapt it was Troy Deutsch. Troy is an alumnus of the University of
Utah’s Actor Training Program and has been living and working as an actor and
playwright in New York City for the last ten years. Robert Scott Smith
approached him about adapting Nathan’s book for the stage and Troy jumped at
After a workshop with local actors, Robert Scott, Alexandra,
and Dallas approached Salt Lake Acting Company to see if we would be interested
in producing this play. SLAC has long been known for taking bold theatrical
risks, and recently expanded that to include plays for children. This seemed
like the right project at the right time and we enthusiastically said YES!
Not only unique in its creation, CLIMBING WITH TIGERS also
came with some exciting theatrical challenges and possibilities. The main
character, Blue – a little blackbird who is afraid to fly because he has
delicate bones (played by Austin Archer) – starts off as a two-dimensional
cartoon character projected onto a screen, but with the help of a magical
narrator (played by Robert Scott Smith), he becomes a three-dimensional,
real-life character ready to go on an adventure to meet the mystical Thunder
Tiger whose tail is known to have magical healing powers. Blue meets up with
the famous Jolly Troop – all two-dimensional colorful cartoon birds – and
together they take flight.
The creative challenges were how to combine these worlds –
one with live actors and one with animated birds. We hired Jarom Neumann, a
Story Artist currently studying in the animation program at BYU, to create the
animated world of the Jolly Troop. His designs and effects were captivating,
and with the help of our incredible technical team, they transformed SLAC’s
Chapel Theatre into another world.
Under Alexandra Harbold’s direction, with
original music by Kevin Mathie, and the artistic oversight of SLAC Executive
Artistic Director Cynthia Fleming, CLIMBING WITH TIGERS was a feast for the
eyes, ears, and imagination.
The ripple effects
Our production of CLIMBING WITH TIGERS was seen by nearly
3,000 people including special guests from Nathan Glad’s class, and children
and families from Shriner’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, Angel’s Hands
Foundation, Boys and Girls Club, Asian Association of Utah, and Christmas Box
House all free of charge.
American Theatre magazine, the nation’ premier publication
dedicated to theatre, visited SLAC for a week to observe the tech rehearsals of
CLIMBING WITH TIGERS and wrote an in-depth feature on the production which was
published in their May 2016 issue. Check it out here!
Perhaps the most exciting and impactful ripples of this
production came in the form of funding for four more Red Fred Project books. One
will be funded by a father and daughter from Colorado who saw the show together
and decided they would like to fund Dallas’s next project. The daughter has
cerebral palsy and was incredibly inspired by the work Red Fred Project is
doing. The other donor was a mother who saw the play with her three children
and afterward told Dallas she’d like to fund three more books. Each book costs $15,000 to create and publish,
and so securing funding for the next four books is a tremendous feat. We could
not be more excited for Dallas and Red Fred Project as they continue their
CLIMBING WITH TIGERS was an incredibly special journey for
SLAC. We are proud to work with the most talented artists and to be surrounded
by the most generous community. This project would not have been possible
without their fearless collaboration and support.
Shannon Musgrave is
Associate Artistic Director at Salt Lake Acting Company, where she is involved
in season planning and oversees all new play development initiatives. She has
her Master’s Degree in Arts Management from American University in Washington D.C.
and has acted and directed locally.