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A Place to Learn Pacific Islander Arts and Crafts

August 19, 2016

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Approximately 1.5 million Pacific Islanders reside in the United States. Outside of Hawaii, Utah has the highest percentage of Pacific Islander with 35,000 Pacific Islander residents, the majority of whom are Tongan or Samoan. Approximately 70% of those Pacific Islanders live in Salt Lake County.  In 2013, acknowledging the growing Pacific Islander population in Utah, Governor Herbert declared August as Pacific Island Heritage Month.  This was an answer to NTAS’s annual Friendly Islands Festival to bring awareness to the growing Pacific Islander population in Utah, promote Pacific Islander arts and crafts as a means to encourage cultural preservation. It also serves as an avenue for first and second generation PIs to identify ways to integrate their PI traditions into their new American lifestyle. The Pacific Islander Heritage Month provided an avenue to proudly share PI arts and crafts, culture and tradition with the mainstream society. 

2015 festival kava ceremony audience

The National Tongan American Society recognizes the cross-cultural environment that many of the first and second generation families are forced to live. Very few opportunities are available for the production or appreciation of PI arts and crafts.  NTAS seeks to promote and provide opportunities to the PI community and others who are interested in learning, teaching, and increasing their skills in PI arts and crafts.

NTAS recognizes that the arts are avenues of cross-generational interaction and learning within the Pacific Island community as well as across main stream and other communities. Arts can allow youth to combine traditional art forms with modern technology and share with the elders of the community arts through film, graphic arts, fashion design, and quilting similar to that of the artisans of old.

kava ceremony group photo

The art of dance, song, traditional craftsmanship of wood carving, weaving, tapa-making and oral histories are ingrained in the Pacific Island culture. Traditionally, daily living required clothing articles made from weavings and tapa cloth.  Today, these items and other crafts are sold for income and are used for traditional weddings, funerals, decoration and gifts. Without the elders teaching the next generation, the art of creating these items will soon disappear.

Music is intertwined into all aspects of PI culture. Events are not events without music, singing, and/or dancing. Telling stories and expressing our connections and feelings through the music and the performing arts are normal traditional practices. The tradition of selfless giving, the importance of having a strong sense of belonging, bonding with family and extended family members, with love and respect are taught through music and dancing.

dancers at kava ceremony

Promoting PI Arts & Crafts

Through many of NTAS's events, we have promoted PI arts and crafts. To promote the first year of the PI Heritage Month, women in the community who were skilled in traditional arts and crafts came together and held a women’s handicraft expo of PI hand made clothing, jewelry, quilts, and basket weaving.

In addition, the Miss Pacific Islander Utah pageant included an Island Creation category to display clothing designed with traditional materials.  All contestants were also to perform a traditional dance from their island of choice.  

The NTAS Annual Pohiva Kilisimasi (Nondenominational Church Choir Christmas Concert) has been ongoing for 15 years, promoting traditional polyphonic singing. Christian missionaries who came to Polynesia in the 1790 brought written hymns. It naturally merged Polynesian polyphonic singing with church singing, which is today, a spectacular, important part of PI religious culture. Music is a characteristic of PI people -- especially at Christmas time. The Pohiva Kilisimasi is held the 2nd Sunday of each December and rotated among the Tongan Church denominations. All Pacific Island community's diverse denomination choirs are invited to perform Christmas and religious songs which promotes unity in the PI community.

The Annual Friendly Islands Festival

As the growth and popularity of PI arts and crafts continue, we find many individuals, organizations and churches interested in increasing the art and crafts programs of the annual Friendly Islands Festival.

  • In the 2014 festival, the Discovery Area was a new event organized by the University of Utah's Pacific Island Student Association. Using storytelling, poetry, and songs from the rich history of the South Pacific, students worked with the traditional craftsmen and women to educate festival attendees about the traditional crafts that were displayed.  Demonstrations illustrated time and history of the arts and crafts pieces. The Discovery Area will be a place to discover the similarities and the differences of the Pacific Island countries. 
  • Another addition to the Friendly Island Festival is the Ukelele, Sing-A-Long Jam Session area. Festival attendees will be encouraged to bring a uke or guitar and participate in a play-and-sing-along; or others can come and sit, relax, and just enjoy the melodies of others.
  • To encourage the participation of children in the arts and crafts, we have a stage that will have non-stop performing arts and craft activities from all communities. Children will also have an area where different art or craft activity every hour through out the 2 days will be offered.  Some of the crafts will be lei-making, tapa stamping, weaving, Tongan language & dance, quilt squares, and sidewalk art.
  • In addition, the Utah Pacific Island Arts Council will host a film festival of Pacific Islander documentaries and/or films during Pacific Island Heritage Month.

We would like to add to Pacific Island Heritage month an event to include the men's kava clubs. All clubs will be given a proverb or a theme and each club composes a song with that specific theme in mind.  They will also choreographic a tau’olunga (traditional Tongan dance) where young ladies will perform the tau’olunga dance to the clubs original music piece.

festival kava ceremony in 2015

The Importance of PI Arts & Crafts

In the United States, some of these art forms are dwindling, often times frowned upon as ‘old’ tradition and not worthy to pass along. Often, as families assimilate to the American culture, traditional PI arts are not being handed down to the next generation. Unfortunately, many PIs have the thought that westernization is modernization.

Through ZAP funding these events, foster acceptance, understanding, and appreciation of cultural differences within and outside of the Pacific Island communities. Through participating and demonstrations of the Pacific Island arts and crafts, we seek for culture sensitivity across all Salt Lake communities and the understanding of PI communities that you don’t have to westernize to modernize.  That understanding and accepting our cultural differences and working productively together, can make Salt Lake City, the state of Utah, and our great country the best place to live, eat, work, play and do business for all -- regardless of race, religion, sexual preference, ability, and culture -- harmoniously!

-Ivoni Nash

Ivoni Nash is the Program Director for the National Tongan American Society whose mission is to "Strengthen the Pacific Islander Family by promoting health, education, cultural preservation and civic engagement."

A Shakespearean Ticket Tuesday Giveaway from Utah Children's Theatre

August 16, 2016

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UCT Giveaway

Winners have been chosen for this week's giveaway to the Utah Children's Theatre Shakespeare Festival (August 20 - October 1).  Stay tuned for future Ticket Tuesday contest opportunities!

On what connects us Mexico and Utah

August 10, 2016

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Utah and Mexico have a long connection going back many millennia. And one thing that appears to connect us seems to be our mutual love of chocolate.

Several years ago, U of U researchers discovered cacao in an ancient pot near Blanding, Utah. Cacao does not grow in Utah. This indicates that the peoples of what is now is Utah traded, interacted, maybe enjoyed a cup of Aztec hot chocolate with the peoples of what is now Mexico and perhaps Central America.


Shards of pottery also create a path of migration from ancient sites in our state to Paquime, the "Mesa Verde of Mexico," in what is now the state of Chihuahua, near the Mormon Colonies there. Today local artists in the town of Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, and Moab, Utah, create pottery that reflects the traditions of the Ancient Pueblans of our region and those of Paquime. 

route map

Another tradition reflecting this history has become extremely popular in our state:  Day of the Dead, a celebration of ancestors that grew out of ancient traditions of Mexico then melded with Catholic All Souls' Day, has been embraced throughout our state as a way to celebrate our departed family members. What a better holiday for Utahans who love genealogy!


In 2010, I founded Artes de México en Utah along with local artists who were inspired by an exhibit of Mexican art at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. I had assisted in a companion exhibit of the works of Pablo O'Higgins, a Utah artist who became a Mexican muralist. I had seen the delight and pride in the faces of young Latinos who visited the exhibit. I had raised my daughter, whose father is Mexican, to be bilingual and bicultural at a time when there was little available in the community to inspire young Latinos to be proud of their heritage. 


I had no trouble gathering a group of artists and designers who wanted the same, and with the blessing of the UMFA, we poached some of their staff for our advisory board! We connected with the Mexican Consulate, and they welcomed our collaboration. 

We started off with a bang: an exhibit about Frida Kahlo produced in Mexico, which was seen by almost 20,000 people at the Salt Lake City Public Library. 

frida kahlo exhibit at the salt lake city public library

Our next project, also in collaboration with the Mexican Consulate, were photographs of the Mexican Revolution from the legendary Casasola Archive in Hidalgo, Mexico. We spread that exhibit across the valley in seven venues and partnered it with photographs of Mexico today, created by members of the community. 

Busloads of students from throughout the county and beyond visited the exhibits and learned about them from Latino high school students, whom we trained as docents. 

mexico library banners

Photo by Edgar Gomez, courtesy of the Utah Natural History Museum

At each of our exhibits, Latinos shared gratitude that "Utah cares about my history." Many others expressed their appreciation as to how Latino cultures enrich our state. 

We came to see how this deeper history of Utah, its history as part of Mexico, is something our entire state can be proud of. So two years later, Artes de México launched a project called New Chapters | Nuevos Capítulos. 


We spent a year taking the oral histories of local Mexican artists, curators and collectors. It culminated in an exhibit at Mestizo Gallery that showcased the works and lives of artists Veronica Pérez, Ruby Chacón, and Jorge Rojas, dancer/choreographer Jessica Salazar, and Tina Misrachi Martin, whose father was Diego Rivera's art dealer. 

Thanks to ZAP and our other funders, as well as fabulous community partners, we have been able to expand our programming to include ongoing free classes in the community on Mexican art and cultures, the state's only prize for original literature in Spanish (the Sor Juana Prize), a yearly Mexican film tour, and many other activities that spread the beauty of Mexican art and cultures through the community.

people wearing zap stickers

I feel that embracing the deeper history of Utah, including our Native American history and our history as part of New Spain and Mexico, honors the contributions not only of people who originated in Utah, but of all people who have found their way to our state. 

One of the most humbling experiences I have had was when Artes taught a class about Mexican art and history at Horizonte school to more than 70 students, most of whom were refugees or immigrants from outside of Latin America. After eight classes learning about Mexico, the students shared their "take away" message from the class: That here in the U.S. we can overcome the challenges of racism and discrimination and create a just society that respects people's religions, values and cultures. 

mexico then and now

Our class, we realized, was not just about Mexico but about a story that is common to all those who make up our history: those who lived off the land in ancient times before there were borders, those who arrived on foot in 1847, when Utah was Mexico, and those who have come here in recent times, also in search of a better life: It is the story of Perseverance.

ruby chacon perseverance

Ruby Chacon, Perseverance

 -Susan Vogel

Susan Vogel is the co-founder of Artes de México in Utah and a member of its Advisory Board. She is author of Pablo O'Higgins: How an Anglo-American from Utah Became a Mexican Muralist (Pince-Nez Press, 2010).

Ticket Tuesday Giveaway with Tracy Aviary

August 09, 2016

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Tracy Aviary
Thanks to everyone that participated this week!
2 winners have been chosen for the free tickets to Tracy Aviary.
Stay tuned for our next giveaway!

How admittedly cheesy humor fosters transformation

August 03, 2016

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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.”

transmorfer 2009

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.

eric jensens charlies aunt 2013

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:


Dear OBT,

We 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 him.

Last 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 cut.  

Long 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.

We 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.

Once 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.

star ward 2016

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 life. 

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.

eve laughing stock performance

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 Sandy,

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 properly.

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!off broadway theatre logo

-Jeff Driggs

Jeff Driggs is on the OBT board, and has had the pleasure of performing in a few of their shows.

Ticket Tuesday Giveaway for Wasatch International Food Festival

August 02, 2016

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UCCC Food Fest

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 Citys west-side sing

July 27, 2016

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“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 porcelain.”

~John Adams

grace notes performs

I come from a family of immigrants.

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.

grace notes at jackson elementary

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. 

grace notes with mayor biskupski

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 avail. 

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. 

grace notes student with victoria

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.

grace notes students performing for audience

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

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

July 26, 2016

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TIcket Tuesday- Midvale Chess

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

July 20, 2016

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In 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.

Dallas Graham and Nathan Glad - Authors of the book CLIMBING WITH TIGERS

About Nathan Glad

Nathan 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 first steps.

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. 

Austin Archer and the Jolly Troop - Photo by Caitlin Blue

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 the chance.

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.

Austin Archer and Thunder Tiger - Photo by Caitlin Blue

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!

Robert Scott Smith and Blue - Photo by Caitlin Blue

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 vital work.

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

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. 

Ticket Tuesday Giveaway to Craft Lake City DIY Festival

July 19, 2016

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Ticket Tuesday- Craft Lake

4 winners have been chosen for our #ZAPTicketTuesday giveaway to the 2016 Craft Lake City DIY Festival.  Stay tuned for our next giveaway, and check out the festival at the Gallivan Center August 12-14!