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.