Reflecting on 20 Years of BOM with Our Co-Founder, Halena Kays

Posted by hpalmer on July 18, 2017

20 Years of BOM

Erica and I started BOM 20 years ago. We were naïve and ambitious and passionate. We started it for a bunch of reasons.  Important, socially conscious, political, radical and smart reasons.  I’m sure Erica had all and only selfless reasons- make the community you live in better, be the change…that kind of thing.  I felt that way too, of course, because I am not a monster.  BUT- I was also young and hungry for community.  I wanted to gather the best people I knew and make things with them.  I wanted to do this in an environment that focused on both the larger community we served and the smaller community we were building.  I wanted to make a place that felt like creative home.  I was ostensibly the leader of this community for 10 years, but the truth is- I didn’t do anything except make a space for smart, passionate people to try things.  Then I selfishly paid attention and learned things. I use these ideas literally every day, whether in raising my kid, navigating a boring meeting or directing a fancy play.  Thank you BOM performers and teachers- I am lucky to know you.

10 Things I learned from watching the Barrel of Monkeys ensemble make things for 20 years: 

1. Laughing makes you better. The very best BOM performers I worked with over the years were also the ones who seemed to laugh the most when watching what others came up with.  That can’t be a coincidence.  They never took a break when we were creating, they’d hang around the edges and laugh and clap and have this childish, amazed look on their faces.  I started to relax and try this idea- it made me better at my job.  It also makes me better at being a person.

2. Try anything once.  In rehearsals, just try everything, especially things you think you are bad at.

3. Joy in the thing, makes the thing fun and good to watch.  When you are bubbling because the thing you are performing makes you so happy and you can’t wait for people to watch it- it will be fun for us to watch it.  Make it honest, find your joy.  This also will make you a better performer, so that’s neat.

4. Don’t let the tiny editor get you.  You know that little jerk in your head that tries to murder your weird impulses? Say hello to that voice, its fine, and then run fast toward the absurd delights of wild play.

5. Give the world what you have and the world will give you what you need.  I didn’t have much (money, talent, experience, etc.), but the people in BOM seemed like something that might make the world a little bit better for a few people. That’s what I had to offer, in return I got everything- community, smarts, joy, work ethic, inspiration….the list is forever and I am grateful.

6. Be inspired, learn something new, and share the thing you learned with people who inspire you.  Repeat.  People went away, they learned new things, they came back and taught us all the things they learned.  We all got better. We all went away and got inspired and returned and taught each other.  And everything got better.  And everything continues to get better. 

7. Make everything a game, especially hard things.  Mary Poppins also knew this thing, but I learned it in the BOM classrooms and then remembered to apply it to the rehearsal room and now I remember to apply it to laundry and taxes, also making art.

8. Be the person you always hope is in your group. There’s that person in the cast that you love to make things with- figure out what makes that person so great to collaborate with, then do that stuff more.

9. Let people surprise you, let people change.  I get ideas in my head about people and then sometimes limit what I believe they are capable of doing.  I learned to stop doing that as much.  Life is better when you challenge, see the best, see what is possible and relish change.

10. The good idea is just the baby that all the bad ideas had.  As those awful, brave, strange and wrong choices tap dance around the rehearsal room, as we laugh and celebrate the seeds of good ideas inside the terrible monsters of first efforts and bizarre instincts- the good thing inevitably emerges. Sometimes sliding out like a beautiful shimmering dolphin, more often through grunts and pain and manhandling- regardless, finding the treasure in all the dirt is the process of making. So never shy away from throwing dirt. 

Thank you creators of all thing BOM.  You have made my adventures in the world better.  You have made me better. 

Halena Kays and Erica Halverson founded Barrel of Monkeys in 1997.

 

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