The Monkey Minute!

Posted by Amanda Farrar on March 26, 2015

General School Residencies Company Members

Three years ago, Barrel of Monkeys had the wonderful opportunity to offer our arts education program as part of Super 7, an after-school program for girls at Willa Cather Elementary created by singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Janelle Monae. Barrel of Monkeys has been excited to continue this project with Super 7 for the past three years. A 12+ session program, as opposed to our typical 6 session program, the teams have been able to add new curricula and create impactful connections with the students. For the first two years, Zoe Schwartz was a teaching artist for this program, but was unable to continue her participation in year three due to other commitments. What follows is Zoe’s lament regarding missing the pleasure of working in the program this year.

Want to support our school programs? An easy and fun way is to attend our fundraiser on Saturday, March 28! The Big Wedding: Everyone Get Married is a big celebration of this story and all the 6,000 stories that will be written this school year!


Zoe, I won’t Never Understand You: A letter to the Super 7 Girls
By Zoe Schwartz

Dear Super 7 Girls*,

I miss you. I miss you soooooo much. After teaching at your program for the last two years, it is weird to not be spending time with you. I remember our first year when there were 10 of you. Two girls for every teacher. It was kind of an amazing way to get to know you. We got to spend so much time hearing each of your stories and seeing your amazing voices develop over our residency. And some of those stories I will never forget: Pretty Skunks, Hello Kitty and the Dog, and that one time Fontayza wrote the line “Zoe, I won’t never understand you.” Me neither, Fontayza. Me neither.

Monkey Teaching Artists & Janelle Monae

Because we were a small group and such BFFS we even had the chance to make and keep a lot of really funny inside jokes. I know I still smile every time someone mentions burgers and corn! (Sorry other readers- inside joke with my BFFs from Super 7 Girls!)

Then last year, as the 3rd graders turned into very mature 4th graders and you got a new bunch of 3rd graders and the group doubled in size? So exciting. To be able to spend time with the girls I already knew and on top of that get to become BFFs with the new class of Super 7 Girls was incredible. I loved watching the girls I knew really well write even bigger and more developed stories and then turn to help the younger girls remember to include a setting or figure out a way to end their story. Teaching at your program two days a week for 8 weeks meant that I was spending more time with you than some of my friends! That’s crazy!

I really specifically remember this one time last year when we were going over the agreements. (In case you don’t know - Barrel of Monkeys has five agreements that the students go over at the beginning of each class to remind us of the importance of every idea being a good idea, supporting each other, respect, listening, and being safe.)  You girls knew them like the back of your Monsters High Backpack. We were struggling as teachers for a way to keep them exciting and interesting to you. That day, Donnell had the great idea to sing them. He had individual girls sing each agreement in a different style. And boy did you guys rock it. I hadn’t seen that much commitment to those agreements since they were probably first written by Monkeys from the Stone Age one million years ago.

Because we had such a long schedule last year, we got to have some really fun writing theme days that aren’t usually in our curriculum. I remember that time we got a letter from an alien and got to save its planet! And that time we made a newspaper! And that time we got to sit around an (imaginary) campfire and tell spooooooky stories. Each of these days you guys brought so much energy and excitement to the room. Even days when you were hungry, angry, or sleepy, you would still find a way to show off your excellent imaginations. I think this was because you felt that Barrel of Monkeys was important. I think you always pulled through because you knew that we were doing something special in that room every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. You knew this was the time you got to be YOU and figure out how to express that to the world. And it was sure incredible to witness that magic for two years in a row.

Like I said earlier, you girls rock and I miss your magical girl power every day!



Treat yo Self at The Big Wedding

Posted by Amanda Farrar on March 19, 2015


Here’s where this particular wedding, The Big Wedding: Everyone Get Married, is exceptional: everyone is being celebrated, including YOU. You know what day it is? It’s the BEST DAY OF THE YEAR.

Treat Yo Self

Cocktails from Crafthouse Cocktails, beer from Rock Bottom Brewery, dancing to Toast & Jam‘s amazing DJ, hors d’oeuvres, wine, the most entertaining wedding ceremony since Tony n Tina, so why stop there?

Treat yo self to the raffle for 2 tickets to a taping of Saturday Night Live AND to incredible auction prizes!

We still have these wonderful big ticket items! But there’s more…

Here’s a little preview of the ways you can get a little self care from Barrel of Monkeys’ Silent Auction:

Treat Yo Self
This item includes a haircut and color service from Douglas J Aveda Institute, 1 Finally Free lifetime membership from Simi Botic, 1 month ulimited yoga at Bloom Yoga Studio, a facial and gift basket from Arbonne International, and this GIGANTIC BOTTLE OF WINE from Frances Ford Coppola’s winery (company member Nick Hart’s head for size reference)!
Wine bigger than your head

Tour de Brunch
Brunch it up at Tre Kronor, Cafe Selmarie, and Goddess and the Grocer!

Body Love
Be good to your body with this package that includes one-month unlimited membership to The Bar Method, one-month unlimited yoga at Core Power Yoga, and an acupuncture exam and treatment at Aligned Modern Health.


The Monkey Minute!

Posted by Amanda Farrar on March 18, 2015

General That's Weird Grandma School Shows School Residencies After School Program Company Members

After teaching creative writing residencies in a Chicago Public School or the Chicago Park District, teaching artists collect the students’ notebooks and share them with several of the company’s ensemble of professional actors and musicians. Together, the teaching artists, actors, and musicians adapt selected stories for the stage and return to the school to present an original performance drawn entirely from the student-written material.

The experience of seeing their work performed in front of an audience of their peers is profoundly moving and empowering for the student-authors. The experience of performing student-work for the authors themselves can be intensely challenging and stressful for the Monkeys, because as much as we try, not every adaptation is an A+. As Oona Kersey Hatton experienced, students can be our greatest critics and our greatest teachers.

How do the story adaptations currently being performed in
That’s Weird, Grandma measure up? Come judge for yourself. Tickets available now for Sundays at 2pm through April 26 and only 2 more Monday at 8pm performances!


Adventures in Adaptation
By: Oona Kersey Hatton

I joined Barrel of Monkeys in 2000. At that time we were rehearsing in a converted warehouse space that was used during the day as a doggie daycare. It had a concrete floor and was surprisingly clean, with only the faintest redolence of the daytime occupants.

I was so excited to be in the ensemble, and I had signed up for the first show of the year. One of my first adaptations was a collaboration with Ryan Walters, Erica Rosenfeld Halverson, and Tom Malinowski. I remember very little about the story except that it involved two forest animals getting into a heated altercation that they ultimately brought to the Bottom of the Pond (personified) for mediation. I played the Bottom of the Pond. Other cast members played Bugs Bunny (an example of how celebrity characters frequently appear in stories, often out of context) and other small mammals.

We had a great time with our adaptation, which showed the animals getting into a fight and then trying to resolve the dispute by all sharing their versions of “what really happened.” This meant that we essentially acted out the story three times. In our creative vision, the differences in each repetition—which relied on subtle adjustments to character portrayal—were increasingly hilarious and absurd. In reality, the satire would have been impossible for an audience of any age to discern—first, because the size and acoustics of the performance space would have rendered any but the most exaggerated contrasts impossible to discern, and second, because the audience had very little opportunity to get to know the characters and therefore would have difficulty grasping how they were being parodied.

Even Oona is confused.

If this criticism seems a little heady, take the word of an audience member from that fateful morning. A student sitting in the front row turned to her companion in the middle of our performance and exclaimed, “this story is too long.” We immediately recognized that her assessment was correct, and we enjoyed repeating this pithy critique for years to come.

I left that morning with a few thoughts that my next ten years in Barrel of Monkeys would confirm:
1. The audience is always right.
2. Repetition needs justification.
3. Not every adaptation will be a slam dunk.

I use these and hundreds of other Barrel of Monkeys-lessons every day as I teach and continue to make theatre.

Come one come all to the pepper festival!

Posted by Joe on March 17, 2015

That’s Weird, Grandma welcomes The Pepper Festival by Keairra M. from the Burnham Anthony Academy to it’s line up!


It’s a song with a little country flare and peppery spice composed by company member Geoff Rice!

Here is the story:

The Pepper Festival by Keairra M., Burnham Anthony Academy
Once upon a time there was a pepper festival. They had all kinds of peppers. Big ones small ones tall ones. They had balloons that look like peppers. It was a nice sunny day. The festival was near a forest. They had a lot of people carrying the big balloon. Some people even fell over trying to hold it down. Some people brought their family down to the festival. They had a picnic. The pepper festival only comes around once. The pepper festival came on July 5. One of the balloons flew away. The Balloons made big shadows. Bigger than a tree shadows. They pass pepper candles out at night. So people can wave them. They had fireworks that spelled peppers. And they had one in the shape of peppers. The pepper festival happens in every city. So everyone gets a chance to see the peppers. Sometimes they had a contest on the biggest pepper. The person with the biggest pepper gets a year supply of peppers. Last year Molly Patton won. She fainted when she heard the news. Also the person who wins against the world they get one of the big balloons. Many people participate. So why don’t you come to the pepper festival. THE END.

Say “So why don’t you come to the Pepper Festival?” To Ambar at the box office for discounted tickets!

See you at the show!