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BWW Interview: Executive Artistic Director Cynthia Fleming on Salt Lake Acting Company's 49 ¾ Season and CLIMBING WITH TIGERS

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New and archival digital theatre, hybrid in-person audiences in 2021

BWW Interview: Executive Artistic Director Cynthia Fleming on Salt Lake Acting Company's 49 ¾ Season and CLIMBING WITH TIGERS

Salt Lake Acting Company fully embraced 2020 with its unprecedented 49 ¾ season, including both new and archival digital theatre, and hopefully hybrid in-person audiences starting next March. Executive Artistic Director Cynthia Fleming spoke with BroadwayWorld about dealing with the pandemic, the unique elements of their plans, and the next show on the docket: CLIMBING WITH TIGERS, streaming November 30 to Dec. 20.


1. Can you give us a sense of the state of Salt Lake Acting Company at this time, eight months into the COVID-19 shutdown?

Fairly early into the shutdown, we adopted the mantra "WE GOT THIS." That has driven SLAC for the past eight months. It's been an incredibly trying time for the arts, but I couldn't be more proud of my team for adapting. We meet daily via Zoom to keep each other updated on our various projects and to support one another. So we're still here. We're deepening our relationship with our audience and creating theatre--albeit virtually--in new and exciting ways.

2. How did you arrive at the decision to postpone your 50th season and instead offer a 49 ¾ season?

For 50 years, Salt Lake Acting Company has been producing new plays, plays that would not be seen if it weren't for SLAC. An open and adventurous audience appreciates/loves/follows our loud alternative voice. COVID has deterred us from celebrating this milestone in grand style. 49 ¾ is a nod to this quirky time as we build a bridge to live theatre.

3. What is special about this season?

This is a season full of firsts: We've delved into film production with our SLAC DIGITAL SHORTS as a way of keeping artists employed during a catastrophic time for the arts. We recently co-produced an immersive, digital theatre experience called AMERICAN DREAMS. We're preparing to showcase an archival video from our collection (CLIMBING WITH TIGERS), and we're preparing to tackle the spring with live streamed theatrical events. Next summer will also bring our first ever #SLACabaret, for which we're incredibly excited.

4. What are some of the challenges and opportunities of offering streaming theatre?

The biggest challenge is the fact that we are theatre people. We produce for the stage, and for a live audience. We made an about-face and looked at the stories we tell through a different lens, a digital lens. This will certainly affect the direction and rehearsal process this season. We want our streaming productions to reflect the excitement and quality that SLAC audiences have come to expect from us. It's a challenge we're excited to take on.

Our first streaming production will actually be an archival recording of our 2016 production of CLIMBING WITH TIGERS. We've received special permission from Actors Equity Association to screen, and we're happy that our agreement means that the theatre artists who helped to bring the story to life will once again be compensated for their artistry.

Starting with FOUR WOMEN TALKING ABOUT THE MAN UNDER THE SHEET next March, we're going to do something pretty extraordinary: filming our productions specifically for the audience at home. And, should COVID conditions allow, we'll hopefully be able to start welcoming our audience back to the building. Either way, we know that some of our patrons will feel safer viewing from the comfort of their own home, so this hybrid approach is vital in continuing to reach our audiences. The fact that we are going to be able to offer streaming theatre is in large thanks to an exciting partnership with The Davey Foundation and our streaming platform partners at the Salt Lake Film Society. (We'll be able to share more details about that very soon.)

5. Can you tell us about CLIMBING WITH TIGERS?

CLIMBING WITH TIGERS is pure theatrical magic. SLAC originally produced the world premiere in 2016, and when it came time to select one of our prior productions to be shown online for our children's show spot, it was at the top of our list. Based on the book by Nathan Glad and Dallas Graham, the show was written for the stage by Troy Deutsch and directed by Alexandra Harbold.

Because this is the first time that CLIMBING WITH TIGERS will be offered as part of our Title-I Arts Education Program, we're once again working with Penelope Caywood, who is creating all-new supplementary content for the school screenings.

The production will be made available to Title-I schools throughout Utah starting November 30. SLAC subscribers and the general public can stream CLIMBING WITH TIGERS on demand December 5-20.

6. What will the all-new supplemental educational component be like, and how will it be shared with K-2 graders throughout Utah?

For school settings, there will be a couple of ways to view and engage in the production.

1. A teacher-led option for online or in-person learning.

2. There will also be a student-paced option for remote learning.

The hour-long production has been split into smaller sections with lessons and activities between each section. Some activities are interactive, hands-on, and/or creative. We will be producing pre- and post-show videos that will enhance the experience of watching the show. And there will be a special SLAC Cat Chat where classrooms and families can ask questions or share their reactions to the play with the theatre. Once schools/classrooms sign-up for this opportunity, they will be sent an all-inclusive link with the production and accompanying materials.

7. How can people support Salt Lake Acting Company at this difficult time?

We're currently offering season subscriptions, which include three productions in 2021 that will be offered as both a live stream and in person (should COVID conditions allow). We're also preparing to kick off our year-end donation campaign. Information for both season subscriptions and donations can be found at www.saltlakeactingcompany.org. People can also help SLAC by wearing a mask and staying healthy so we can re-open this spring.

8. Is there anything else you'd like to say?

Thank you to everyone who has supported SLAC over the past eight months. We're working hard to ensure a safe and healthy return as soon as we're able.

To buy tickets and for more information, visit www.saltlakeactingcompany.org.

Photo Credit: Salt Lake Acting Company's CLIMBING WITH TIGERS


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From This Author Tyler Hinton