Name Change News

With much excitement, we are pleased to announce as of October 15, 2019 we are now known as PlayMakers Laboratory Theatre.  Why did we make this change? In truth, concerns about the name Barrel of Monkeys has periodically surfaced among both internal and external stakeholders for years.  Use of monkey imagery and racial slurs is a well-documented tendency throughout American history, and as our organization has evolved to become a more diverse organization at all levels, consciousness of this issue has increased, resulting in a consensus that the time has come to change the name.  This year, with the generous support of the Arts Work Fund for Organizational Development we were able to partner with media design company, LimeRed, to embark on the journey of changing our organization’s name. After many discovery sessions, conversations and surveys, we have selected PlayMakers Laboratory Theatre as our new name to take us into the next evolution or our company.  While the work itself will not change, it is our hope that once the new brand is launched, stakeholders will recognize the bold intention behind the endeavor and their respect for our company as an organization that upholds its values and puts its constituents first will grow.  Fear of change is a strong motivator, but the world has indeed changed and the awareness of systems of oppression has grown and the need to be better is more apparent now than ever before. 


Barrel of Monkeys (Now PlayMakers Laboratory) was founded in 1997 by Erica Halverson and Halena Kays. Halverson and Kays had both performed in Griffin’s Tale at Northwestern University. Griffin’s Tale is a theatre ensemble that creates a sketch comedy show from stories that have been mailed to them from North Shore elementary schools.  After graduating from Northwestern, Halverson and Kays realized that there were underserved students in the Chicago Public School who would benefit from similar programming and consequently founded Barrel of Monkeys.

Halverson, who has a Ph.D. in Education & Social Policy, developed the BOM curriculum to facilitate creative expression. She based the methods in research that shows that drama games work to improve the quality and consistency of writing and literacy skills and that stimuli provided through pictures, song, movement and play-acting are essential to child development. Kays, along with the original performing company members, used her theatrical training as an actor and director to develop the unique performance style. Halverson became the organization’s first Executive Director and Kays the Artistic Director.

Pilot Program

PML piloted its program in 1997 with the Heartland Alliance. Incorporated in 1999, PlayMakers Laboratory now partners with the Chicago Public Schools and The Chicago Park District to provide innovative programming where it is most needed.

Results of Our Programs

PML has helped more than 20,000 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders with limited literacy skills and few opportunities for creative expression to gain self esteem and confidence in their own ideas and abilities. More than 30,000 students have seen their own and their peers’ stories come to life through performance by professional actors.

That’s Weird, Grandma

In April of 2001, PlayMakers Laboratory opened “That’s Weird, Grandma” at the Neo-Futurarium in Andersonville, Chicago. A compilation of performances of favorite child-authored stories, the show was an immediate critical hit.

After-School Program

PML piloted an after-school program in the Rogers Park neighborhood in 2004. In 2006-2007 PML added a second tier of programming, allowing students who participated in a previous year to return for an advanced curriculum. This has allowed PlayMakers Laboratory to have a deeper impact in students’ lives and within the community without diminishing the core work in the schools. For more information, visit our after-school program page.

“BOM provides a unique opportunity for students to show various talents while reinforcing the writing curriculum.”

–Jennifer Parise, Columbia Explorers Academy