Posted by Amanda Farrar on April 24, 2015
The overwhelming majority of Barrel of Monkeys’ programming occurs in Chicago Public Schools. During the school day, a team of five teaching artists teach third through fifth graders over a six-week period using theater as a tool to teach creative, persuasive, and narrative writing. The benefit of bringing five teaching artists into the room is that we can deliver one-on-one attention to students more so than is possible in a one-teacher scenario. We are able to build each student’s self-expression abilities by providing writing alternatives as needed, including writing in native language, storyboards, and student dictation. Further, Barrel of Monkeys always validates each student’s ideas through high-quality professional performance, especially those students who may not regularly receive such validation.
Company member Tim Soszko shares his own experience with a student in the classroom and what it was like for them both when performing his adaptation of the story they wrote together.
Adventures in Adaptation
By Tim Soszko
There was a student who, when we would come into her class, was often already in trouble. A particularly sad part of it was she seemingly had no control over and didn’t realize what she was doing. She definitely enjoyed the Barrel of Monkeys teachers being silly, but we were never sure if she enjoyed the games we played in class. She didn’t respond much to questions. Individual writing was a challenge. She didn’t write with ease. One of the Monkey teaching artists were always on hand to help her write, which isn’t abnormal in these residencies. Lots of students need a little help writing or coming up with an idea or just a confidence boost to keep going.
This student needed a lot of coaxing because she didn’t seem to know what was going on at times. On dialogue day she was sitting with her notebook in front of her, pencil in hand, looking around, not sure what to do. I sat down next to her and re-explained the writing assignment. Come up with some characters, a setting, and then have those characters talk to each other like in a movie. She wanted to write a story about school. And when I asked she said she wanted to be one of the characters. Anyone else? She said I should be one of the characters, too. Great! I told her I love being in stories (because it’s true). How should these characters feel about each other? They should be friends. I liked that too. The dialogue she wrote was very simple: hello, how are you, let’s be friends. They’re happy, they shake hands, they say goodbye. She was very proud of her story. She shared it with the kids around her, showed her teacher, and kept talking as we left.
In our reading meeting all the teachers noticed this was the only story she had really completed. If there is a student that’s struggling or would really benefit from the confidence boost seeing their story adapted on stage, we’ll choose it. And this was one student who truly deserved it.
During rehearsal I excitedly shouted that I’d like to help adapt her story. I had a great idea to present the dialogue in a way she would appreciate. Extremes! With just two people. There were big, loud dance and song numbers. And huge physical movements when we shook hands accompanied by loud sound effects. But all the dialogue and emotions were then presented very simply and positively. Back and forth between these extremes. It was super fun to perform. And the author smiled, puffed up a bit, and looked around to see that other kids were looking at her.
For me, that’s always the first thing I tell people that Barrel of Monkeys does for kids. It boosts their confidence in their creative endeavors. If they feel like they CAN do it, then they’ll WANT to do it more. They know that their voice is worth something. Hooray.