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Salt Lake Acting Company's 'Climbing With Tigers' encourages audiences to 'face your fears'

SALT LAKE CITY — “Climbing With Tigers” depicts the journey of a little black bird named Blue, who is reminiscent of Utahn Nathan Glad, the 10-year-old co-author of the book on which the play is based. Salt Lake Acting Company will present the production March 4-27.

“‘Climbing With Tigers’ is about facing your fears,” said Austin Archer, who plays Blue. “It’s about realizing that the things you’re afraid of or the things that you think are hard to do are exactly the things that will make you strong in the end.”

Nathan, then 9, and Dallas Graham wrote the book as part of the Red Fred Project, a foundation that allows children with critical illness to co-write publishable stories. Nathan was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that causes him to have brittle bones.

“Climbing With Tigers,” which was adapted for the stage by Troy Deutsch, features two stage actors, with the rest of the cast consisting of animated characters.

“It has that Pixar effect. Kids can totally enjoy it, but you watch it as an adult and you go, ‘I love that too,’” Archer said. “It’s got that heart and that honesty."

Archer said it’s quite the experience working directly with those most heavily involved with the project, especially his muse.

“I’m not so much playing Blue as I am playing Nathan Glad. … He comes and visits our rehearsal space, and he’ll watch us do run-throughs,” Archer said. “He’ll bust my chops about this or that when it comes to teeny-tiny little details about my character.”

Archer said Nathan brings an added spark to rehearsals with his contagious excitement and energy.

A week after Nathan's first visit to the set, Archer saw Nathan again, this time with a cast on his arm.

“It’s that quick,” Archer said. “He breaks bones like the rest of us get haircuts. It’s just a very regular thing.”

Archer said seeing the effects of Nathan’s disease has opened his eyes and that it’s been inspirational to see Nathan just be the boy he is.

“Nathan doesn’t feel bad for himself. He’s just a normal kid. He has fun, and he plays, and he runs and jumps and flies like other kids,” Archer said. “Nathan really teaches me that your limitations are all in your head.”

In addition to presenting an original story, the performance will also be one of the most visually compelling and technically difficult productions SLAC has ever produced, said Cynthia Fleming, SLAC’s executive artistic director. The organization partnered with Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory to help pull off the feat.

Fleming said there was a unique learning curve during the creative process in merging theatrics and animation together.

“What I love is all these artists from different mediums came together and we learned how to work together to make this beautiful,” Fleming said. “It’s really creativity at its highest.”

Though the play was designed with young audiences in mind, Fleming said the story is applicable to everyone.

“This play invites you to face your fears and to be the best person you can be no matter what age you are,” Fleming said. “I think it’s just going to touch the hearts and spirits of all.”

If you go ...

What: “Climbing With Tigers”

When: March 4-27

Where: Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City

How much: $26 for adults, $16 for children