We’re excited for That’s Weird, Grandma: Star-Studded Stories to begin this Sunday afternoon! This round of our public sketch show features some of our favorite stories BOM students have written about pop-culture icons, from Migos, to Prince, to Stranger Things characters.
We sat down with the director of this round, Mary Tilden (also BOM’s Education Coordinator) to talk about the stories she’s most excited about - as well as who her favorite star is! Take a look, then join us for the show Sundays at 3pm at The Neo-Futurist Theater now through February 17. We have half-price adult tickets at this Sunday’s preview performance - learn more here.
Normally, I’m Barrel of Monkeys’ Artistic Director, and I am caught behind the scenes directing shows. I’m thrilled about this show because I got to hand the directing reigns over to the amazing Ana Velazquez, who has been leading us through such a fun rehearsal process for our next school show at Columbia Explorers Academy (BOM’s longest School Partner). The cast is comprised of long-time BOM all-stars, as well as several of our new stars who joined BOM in the fall. Check out these photos of us having fun singing, laughing and putting our creative minds together to create this fantastic show for CEA’s students!
We start rehearsal by learning a Spanish-language song by an amazing Artistic Associate, Allison Grischow, seen here teaching Mary Tilden and Joan Figarella. It’s a story about a Dolphin Baby and Unicorn Baby. It’s cute and hilarious!
While some of us learn music, our Production Manager Krista Mickelson brings some of our new folks into our props/costume closet so they can choose all the perfect items they need for the show. Artistic Associates Taylor Galloway, Aissa Guerra, and Donny Acosta are loving those fake flowers.
Mary and Joan pose with Ana - in addition to directing, she’s also designing some neat rib cage props!
Aissa and I have found our Perfect Costumes for an underwater story (thanks for the amazing costume donation, David Rosenberg and Krista’s Mom!)
Taylor and fellow Artistic Associate Devin Sanclemente rehearse a song about “Life and Birds.” Taylor wrote the song and we’re featuring Devin as the wise old lark.
All-Star and BOM Program Director Shá Norman plays “The Old Man” in Taylor’s song, along with some bird friends: Donny, Mariana Green, Allison, and Mary.
And we end rehearsal reviewing an incredible story with Mariana on guitar, Jayson Acevedo as Bob Dylan, Allison as Albert Einstein, and Mary as Isaac Newton. It’s WEIRD AND AMAZING!
Thanks for checking out our blog - we are so excited for the Columbia Explorers Academy show on Friday morning! Keep an eye on our Instagram story for live updates from the show.
Sometimes, the stories that our students write lend themselves to singing and dancing, and thanks to the incredible musicians in the BOM company, we’re able to make that happen! That’s the case with one of the stories - “The Monster” by Sebi M. - in our Helen C. Peirce School of International Studies show this Friday.
So how do we take a students’ words and turn them into a musical number? Here’s a peek into the process:
BOM musicians often get inspired to turn a story into a song when reading it aloud with their fellow cast members. Maybe its language is extremely poetic, or its plot invokes a certain musical style. Company member Elisa noticed this with “The Monster,” whose original text is as follows:
Once o upon a time there was a Monster that was named nothing! The Monster was scary as a dementor but as sad as are rock. Since the monstor was so scary he had no friends! But on day the Monstor went on a walk and all of sudden he heard “crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch!” So the Monster turned around to run back to his cave but when he turned around he saw a Ghol so scary it did not have any friends too! Because the Ghol was as scary as a zombie! So the Monster asked the ghol if they wanted to be friends and the ghol said yes. So they played Ghol/Monster/Tag togher! And they were friends forver!
So she took the story home and composed a song outside of rehearsal.
Song lyrics for everyone!
Once she’d written the song, Elisa brought it back to rehearsal room, where the whole cast listened to her play through the song. That way, everyone could get a feel for its style before delving into its more technical aspects. It also gave Elisa an opportunity to mention helpful details for learning and adapting the story - for example, she wrote the song with a 1940s-style trio in mind, so we added sparkly clothing to our costume list!
Gather ‘round the piano!
Once we’d heard the song a few times, we delegated parts among the cast based on each performers’ particular skills. Two of our singers, Diana and Robbin, decided to step up to sing the main part of the song, and other members of the cast filled in for the ensemble parts. Elisa then went over the music with them, teaching both the main melodies and pointing out moments with room to improvise.
A dramatic transition - complete with jazz hands!
Of course, learning to sing the music in a musical number is important - but the movement and acting choices that accompany the song make the story truly come to life.
For the most part, Oly (playing the monster) and Jen (playing the ghoul) created their own choreography with Artistic Director Brandon ensuring everything looked cohesive. Our musicians played the song while Oly and Jen devised movements for their characters - and the ensemble added other moments to help the story come to life even more.
And they were friends forever!
Practice makes perfect, so we ran the song and staging a few more times. This isn’t just to make sure everyone knows their notes and movements, though - it’s also about trying new jokes, adding new movements, and cutting anything that isn’t needed.
We also looked back at the students’ original writing to make sure the piece still accurately reflected the story, and to add in any details that might have become muddled while adapting. And we’ll also take another look at the song during other rehearsals so we can revisit our work with fresh eyes and ears!
Keep an eye on our Instagram story this Friday morning to hear the final version of the song - as well as more of the amazing stories written by Peirce students!
Our beloved holiday round of That’s Weird, Grandma is almost here!
That’s Weird Grandma Rings in the Holidays starts Monday, and we’re thrilled to bring some of our favorite seasonal stories by Chicago elementary school students to The Neo-Futurists Theater once again.
BOM Artistic Director Brandon Cloyd has curated a line-up both hilarious and heartwarming featuring Grandma classics as well as some new stories, such as a dialogue between Krampus and Santa from our Loyola Park After-School Program.
See a sneak-peek in our promo video below, and then be sure to join us between December 10 and December 22. Check out the full schedule and get your tickets here - they’re already selling fast, so be sure to grab yours now to avoid disappointment!
Last year, Barrel of Monkeys taught a shortened residency in the Lake Forest, IL school district for the first time - and this year, we were so excited to do it again! This residency is a bit different than many of our other ones - rather than just teaching in one school, we teach in nine classrooms across three schools, leading to an expansive collection of stories from students. Our school show - adapted from stories that students wrote during the residency - is next Friday, so our cast is currently in the process of reading through stories and choosing which ones to adapt into songs, sketches, and movement pieces.
Artistic Director Brandon Cloyd plans to put about 18 stories into the final show, ensuring there’s an equal representation of the classrooms we taught in, as well as a good mix of stories written by students in groups and stories written by individual students.
Here’s a quick look at two of the stories that the cast has adapted so far:
Dark vs Light
By Steven, Jonah, and Abby
It’s 1879, and the Night Riders, the best Lacrosse team in New York, are up against the Light Riders. The Night Riders think this will be an easy win - after all, they’re the best in the league, and the Light Riders are . . . not. In fact, they’re the worst in the league. The Night Riders face an unexpected challenge, though - the Light Riders’ goalie becomes injured and their Charleston-dancing, surprisingly-athletic water boy fills in.
For this sketch, our cast leaned into the old-timey setting of the story. Leo Thorpe, one of our new Artistic Associates, provided accompaniment with ragtime-style music, our performers brushed up on their silent-movie-era slang, and when deciding what props to use, top hats and evil-villain capes made the list.
In it to win it!
The water boy takes charge.
Fartbara & The Revenge of the Cats
By Catherine M., Hugh T., Evan B., and William N.
Fartbara (played by Steph Vondell, another new Artistic Associate) is an 800-year-old woman who lives in a log cabin in space and farts a lot. She also loves cats, especially her cat Whiskers (played by Jean-Carlos Claudio). They have a lovely, quiet life, but that all changes when a group of aliens attacks!
This story is less prop-heavy than Dark vs Light - instead, our actors focused on using clowning and other physical theatre techniques while adapting to bring Fartbara, Whiskers, and the aliens to life. And of course, with a name like Fartbara, we had to include fart noises from off-stage that the performers interact with throughout the sketch.
Fartbara holding onto Whiskers for dear life. . .
. . . but she and her cat friends won’t back down!
We still have plenty more stories to read through and devise for next week’s show in Lake Forest. Be sure to take a look at our Instagram story around 10am next Friday to see the final versions of these pieces, as well as the rest of the stories our cast adapts!