We’ll be sharing some of our favorite adaptations from this year in the show - and to capture just how wacky and energetic it’ll be, we compiled this promo video featuring footage from some of our 2018-19 school performances. Take a look - and then join us at the Neo for the public premieres of our newest sketches and songs. You can purchase tickets here.
Our students write dozens of stories, poems, and dialogues during our in-school creative writing residencies. We’ve been teaching in elementary schools all across Chicago throughout the school year - so we have a plethora of new stories share with you!
That’s why we’re thrilled to return to the Neo-Futurists Theater this June for That’s Weird, Grandma: Brand New Stories, featuring adaptations created during the 2018-19 school year. We first performed these stories for students in their schools, and now we’re excited to give them their Grandma premieres.
Our first performance is still a few weeks away - but in the meantime, we want to share some of our favorite new stories with you!
1. The Girl who said NO! By Victoria V.
We love adapting stories with a social justice angle, such as this piece from Columbia Explorers Academy (our longest-running school partnership) about a girl who chooses her passion for painting over marriage. Company members Juanita Anderson and Jon Schniedman took the adaptation an extra step by turning it into an original pop song - saxophone solo included.
Once a girl named Layla and she live in a Beautiful grey house that was very big and she loved painting. One day her dad said “you have to find A husband”. But Layla said “no I am fine all alone”. Her father said “oh but there is wonderful guys out there.” So all the guys came in even if Layla said no. After Layla meet all the guys she said no to all of them the last guy came and her dad liked him but Layla said no and she ran out. So no Layla lives in a little house she made and she has no husband and still love to paint. The End.
2. Larry’s LIfe by Treavan H.
Crafting a visually-engaging adaptation through choreography is always exciting for us. This story from Sherman School of Excellence, our newest school partner, details a grandmother’s plight to rid her house of a pesky mouse. We brought the story to life by forming a maze of lasers with red string and various poses, leaving Larry the rat to navigate through with stylized movement.
Once upon a time there was a rat name Larry he Lived in a kitchen he had to kids name Jeff and Luke and a wife name timara he had a problem every time he went to get food he almost runs into mouse traps the women who owns the house has camra’s she is a grandma who is 90 years old and has a shot gun and always watches the camra’s so if the rat name Larry comes out she will know and she can see him and see where Larry’s going one day she saw him go into the hole at the hole she put a mouse trap there.
3. Shame by Ingil E.
Many of our students’ stories include masterful use of figurative language, rhyme, and alliteration, so they sound incredible when read aloud verbatim - and this is especially true of stories written during our Level II curriculum’s Poetry Day. Rawson Vint adapted this poem from Dixon Elementary School into an R&B song to capture the feel of the language, while Jen Allman choreographed a dance with umbrellas for an extra layer of spectacle.
It was a cold night. Rained poured puddles and sleet slid off ceilings from yesterday. I wonder with a sad sorrow sulking voice, “Do igloos imitate iguanas or impress ice?” I wandered off in my mind, sad as a shrew on a sunday with no sunflower seeds. I was wearing a bashful baby blue, crying operas of sad body language. Tears fumbled down my posters of people’s postured and pasteurized face. All left was gloom, sadder than a dog caught destroying and damaging D-Rose sneakers. Captain Crunch was Captain Crud. Cocoa Puffs were Blank Puffs. And Fruit Loops was Gloom Rings. My piano weeped and guitar wined and trombone whimpered. I was a sad moon, wanting to shine but no sun reflection to do so. Drowned in doom and gloom, no life in my room, stale hay on my broom, sad depressed mushrooms, string and yarn too bummed to be loomed. Soon, the daylight and flowers began to bloom. My piano sang, my guitar talked soothingly, and my trombone whistled. The moon peeked from the sky, & the sun brought it out. Life listened and learned, and lived lively for life in my room. Shame shimmed on. The End.
Want to join us for the public premieres of our latest adaptations? You can get tickets to That’s Weird, Grandma: Brand New Storieshere. Plus, you’ll get to vote on which stories should stay in the Grandma repertoire - we think that’s pretty awesome!
“How do you choose the student stories you stage?”
Folks always ask this question about Barrel of Monkeys’ shows. We teach our students that every idea is a good idea, so we don’t simply look for “the best” stories. Instead, we take a combination of factors into consideration – here’s a look at the process for our upcoming North Lawndale school show.
1. Talk Through Classroom Environments
We want to create the best possible show for our students – and that means understanding their personalities and interests. Are they shy? Energetic? Really into a certain video game or musical personality? These tidbits help our cast choose stories that will keep students energized and engaged throughout the performance.
We also encourage our teaching artists to join the school show casts that correspond with the schools they teach in - that way, they can provide insight into creating a show that truly reflects our students’ tastes (like what Joan Figarella is doing in the below photo!)
2. Find the Balance
Prior to rehearsal, our North Lawndale teaching teams curate a selection of stories from students’ journals that showcase the breadth of forms and genres they’ve explored during their residencies, ranging from personal narratives to fictional dialogues. The methods students use to write their stories also vary - they create some by writing independently in their journals, while they write others by combining ideas in groups. We want to celebrate our students’ willingness to explore numerous methods, so we ensure that our show represents this variety.
3. Read in a Group
There’s still more selection required in the rehearsal room, though – after all, we only have an hour for the show! Director Mary Tilden passes around a handful of the selected stories and together, performers read stories aloud. This “circle-time” style reading allows our artists to discern how best to adapt each piece for the stage, whether as a dance piece, a comedy sketch, a song, or a dramatic monologue.
For example, when reading through a story about a beloved car that was destroyed in an accident, Rawson Vint decides it would make a fantastic ballad-style song. He’ll take the story home and come back to a later rehearsal with a more fleshed-out musical piece to teach to the cast for the final performance.
4. Start Adapting!
Once our cast has initial ideas and knows which stories they’ll stage, they begin playing in the rehearsal space and bringing students’ work to life. They might make further changes, with stories added or removed as the show evolves – but for the most part, they’ll dedicate the next few rehearsals to polishing each piece while celebrating our students’ creativity.
Stay tuned this Friday for Instagram stories from our North Lawndale show – we’ll be posting beginning at 10 a.m.
The cast and I are having a blast rehearsing for Barrel of Monkey’s upcoming school shows at Sherman School of Excellence. This is our second year bringing our arts education programming to Sherman - and everyone is especially excited that we will get to perform this show twice!
The first show on Monday morning is specifically for the student authors and their school community. Then, that afternoon, we’ll return for an encore performance for their friends and family. The show features stories with dancing diapers, women taking over the White House, and a bad hair day.
And as always, our students keep their writing current - check out this dialogue included in the show, featuring Barrel of Monkeys Program Director Shá Norman as Jay-Z, and guest artist Graig Tertulien as Kanye West.
Shá Norman and Graig Tertulien rehearse Rappers Airport Beef by Dynasty H.
Rappers Airport Beef by Dynasty H.
Characters: Kanye West, Jay-Z
Jay-Z: Man Kanye whats yo problem? (Concerned)
Kanye: Look Bro I’m just doing me (cocky, arrogant)
Jay-Z: you need to chill out you doing (snaping) too much that’s why my wife don’t want me hanging with you anymore
Kanye: Dude I’m the GOAT (LOUD) Greatest of All Time… you NEED to hang out with me!!
Jay-Z: Naw I can’t do that I’m about to catch this jet. You Riding that Delta plane. (sarcastic)
Kanye: Aww so you got jokes bro. That’s how you feel? (hurt)
Jay-Z: peace bro
Kanye: check 100
Be sure to keep an eye on our Instagram this Monday - we’ll be updating our stories during both performances!
Our students write new stories nearly every week during our in-school arts education residencies in Chicago elementary schools, so the BOM ensemble always has something new to adapt for the stage. The cast of our Poe Classical School show, directed by Laura McKenzie, is currently in the midst of rehearsals, finding the most interesting ways to represent our students’ creative writing through performance.
Here’s a look at the creative process behind one of these adaptations - Dr. Doodle Vol 1 by Dylan F., a story about an evil witch (played by Barry Irving ) who makes drawings come to life by sprinkling poop on the brain of drawing extraordinaire Dr. Doodle (played by Lizzie Bracken).
1. Start with the Story
First, Laura and the ensemble read through the story to see who has ideas for an adaptation. Will it be a song? A short sketch? A monologue? With Dr. Doodle, cast member Jessie Oliver decided a dance piece with evil drawings moving to Russian classical music would best capture Dylan’s story.
2. Get On Your Feet
Next, Jessie walks the cast through her initial blocking, assigning roles, pieces of dialogue, and sound effects, combining her vision for the adaptation with cast members’ strengths. As the performers learn each part, improvised gestures and vocalizations weave their way into the dance, making the adaptation even more zany and fun. This initial run-through also gives everyone a chance to sense how the dance feels on stage before moving onto the next step.
3. Examine all the Details
Once everyone has a sense of what the adaptation looks, feels, and sounds like, Laura, stage manager Cedar, and the ensemble run the piece a few more times, tweaking details to create an even better version of the piece. For BOM, “better” means ensuring that the adaptation is true to the author’s writing - so Laura and the cast revisit the story again and identify parts muddled in translation.
For example, Laura notices that how the drawings come to life isn’t clear - so Barry and Lizzie create more dialogue for their characters, clarifying that in the world of the story, sprinkled poop makes the doodles Dr. Doodle thinks of come to life. It’s also not clear how the audience should feel about the dancing drawings - so Laura assigns actors to highlight movements with bursts of evil laughter, accentuating that we should feel worried for Dr. Doodle.
By running the piece multiple times, Laura and the cast find new beats and opportunities for laughs - such as Jessie bursting through a piece of paper as the drawings come to life (below). We want our audience - a room full of elementary school students - to celebrate their peers’ writing with us, and adding wacky moments to adaptations encourages them to laugh and have an incredible time.
4. Take a Quick Break
Practice makes perfect - but working on anything for too long leads to stagnation. After a few run-throughs and adjustments, the creative team puts Dr. Doodle to the side and moves onto another piece. They’ll revisit it later in the rehearsal process to continue finding new improvements - but that requires taking a break so everyone can come back to the piece with a fresh perspective.
Want to see the final version of Dr. Doodle Vol 1? Keep an eye on our Instagram stories this Friday morning - we’ll be bringing you sneak-peeks into the Poe school show!