Barrel of Monkeys was founded in 1997 by Erica Halverson and Halena Kays. Halverson and Kays had both performed in Griffin’s Tale at Northwestern University. Griffin’s Tale is a theatre ensemble that creates a sketch comedy show from stories that have been mailed to them from North Shore elementary schools.  After graduating from Northwestern, Halverson and Kays realized that there were underserved students in the Chicago Public School who would benefit from similar programming and consequently founded Barrel of Monkeys.

Halverson, who has a Ph.D. in Education & Social Policy, developed the BOM curriculum to facilitate creative expression. She based the methods in research that shows that drama games work to improve the quality and consistency of writing and literacy skills and that stimuli provided through pictures, song, movement and play-acting are essential to child development. Kays, along with the original performing company members, used her theatrical training as an actor and director to develop the unique performance style. Halverson became the organization’s first Executive Director and Kays the Artistic Director.

Pilot Program

BOM piloted its program in 1997 with the Heartland Alliance. Incorporated in 1999, Barrel of Monkeys now partners with the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Communities in Schools to provide innovative programming where it is most needed.

Results of Our Programs

BOM has helped more than 7,000 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders with limited literacy skills and few opportunities for creative expression to gain self esteem and confidence in their own ideas and abilities. More than 18,000 students have seen their own and their peers’ stories come to life through performance by professional actors.

That’s Weird, Grandma

In April of 2001, Barrel of Monkeys opened “That’s Weird, Grandma” at the Neo-Futurarium in Andersonville, Chicago. A compilation of performances of favorite child-authored stories, the show was an immediate critical hit.

After-School Program

BOM piloted an after-school program in the Rogers Park neighborhood in 2004. In 2006-2007 BOM added a second tier of programming, allowing students who participated in a previous year to return for an advanced curriculum. This has allowed Barrel of Monkeys to have a deeper impact in students’ lives and within the community without diminishing the core work in the schools. For more information, visit our after-school program page.

From the Blog


Posted by Joe on November 30

We may all still be stuffed from Thanksgiving, but it doesn’t matter! We at Barrel of Monkeys are going to throw on some sweat pants and loose fitting clothes and dive right into the Holiday Spirit! Now that we… More

Monica, you are literally the worst.

Posted by Joe on November 20

Do you need to brush up on your geography? Do you need to go to a party at Santa’s workshop? Do you like reindeer who love cake? Then this week’s That’s Weird, Grandma is for you! We… More

The Holiday Special is Finally Here!

Posted by Joe on November 15

(please read in your best “Newsies” voice) EXTRA EXTRA! Barrel of Monkey’s has started our “Holiday Special” round of That’s Weird, Grandma! Seven weeks packed full of too much turkey, grumpy elves, christmas balls, many Santas, candles burning… More

Read more in the Monkey Blog

“The residency was fantastic, very motivating. I was amazed by how much my students enjoyed it.”

–Elva Smith, Dewey Academy