Singing About Monsters at Peirce International

Posted by Gavin on December 12, 2018

Education School Shows

Barrel of Monkeys company members rehearsing

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:

1. Composing

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.

2. Listening

Barrel of Monkeys company members in the rehearsal room in Buena Park, looking at sheets of paper and learning a new song.

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!

3. Learning

Barrel of Monkeys company members sitting around a pinao and learning a new song during a rehearsal in Buena Park

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.

4. Staging

Barrel of Monkeys company members rehearsing at the company's rehearsal space in Buena Park

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.

5. Perfecting

Three Barrel of Monkeys company members rehearsing

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!

[Video] “That’s Weird, Grandma” Starts Ringing in the Holidays This Monday!

Posted by Gavin on December 6, 2018

That's Weird Grandma

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!


Looking Forward to Lake Forest

Posted by Gavin on November 9, 2018

Education School Shows School Residencies

Piles of stories on loose-leaf paper written by Barrel of Monkeys students from Lake Forest Elementary Schools near Chicago

So many stories!

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.

Four Barrel of Monkeys cast members putting their hands in together at the start of a sketch about lacrosse during a rehearsal in Uptown

In it to win it!

Barrel of Monkeys cast member Steph Vondell protecting the goal during a sketch about lacross in a rehearsal in Uptown

The water boy takes charge.

Barrel of Monkeys cast members rehearsing a victory dance for a sketch


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.

Barrel of Monkeys cast members rehearsing Fartbara and the Revenge of the Cats during a rehearsal in Uptown

Fartbara holding onto Whiskers for dear life. . .

Barrel of Monkeys cast members acting as cats during a rehearsal in Uptown

. . . 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!

Zombies Everywhere at That’s Weird, Grandma!

Posted by Gavin on November 3, 2018

That's Weird Grandma

Our students love writing about zombies - in fact, they’re such a common character in the stories we adapt that zombie-related items are a normal part of our costume stock! So, when choosing stories for That’s Weird, Grandma: Ghosts, Ghouls and Talking Potatoes, we knew sketches about these beloved undead creatures were an inevitable part of our line-up.

Here are three that you’ll see when you join us for this Sunday’s closing performance.

1. Zombie Potion

Did you know that IHOP has a Potion Day? We didn’t either, but it’s an integral part of this story by Edwin from Peirce School of International Studies. A group of women decide to go to IHOP for Potion Day - but when they create a zombie potion that their husbands accidentally drink, they soon find themselves with zombie-husbands.

Jen Allman, Lev Caruso, and Mary Tilden performing Zombie Potion during a performance of That's Weird, Grandma in Chicago
At Ihop Women made a zombie potion. Each women made one. They left the potion in the fridge. Their husbands thought it was something to drink and drank it. The husbands turned to zombies . . .

2. Zombie Story

a collage of old-timey choose your own adventure novel covers

Ethan from our Loyola Park After-School Program brings us a choose-your-own-adventure story that ends in the reader either escaping a zombie invasion, getting eaten by zombies, or escaping the zombies but being nuked by the military. To keep to the story’s original form, we adapted it into a game show complete with audience participation and two possible endings.

Which one will you see? It all depends on what you and your fellow audience members tell the contestants to do!

You find a strange man walking in an alley. Do you ... Talk to him? if so go to page 2.  Walk away? If so go to page 3.
You talk to him. He moans and walks towards you. Do you…  walk away? if so go to page 3.  Stay there? if so go to pg 4 . . .

3. Malcolm X and the Zombie and Monster Infection

Jasmine Henri Jordan performing Malcolm X and the Monster and Zombie Apocalyspe during a performance of That's Weird, Grandma in Chicago

Malcolm R. from Dixon Elementary put a twist on history with this story. Malcolm X goes out one day to photograph the zombies and monsters taking over his city, but he ends up in a fight with the creatures. Don’t worry, though - he’s accompanied by his trusty sidekicks Gerald and Jayden as well as an awesome pair of brass knuckles.

There once was a man named Malcolm X. One day Malcolm was taking pictures and recording. There were a lot of zombies and mutated humans (monsters) in the city. Malcolm was not scared at all,not a bit. He was in the military and he went to the bottom of his building. He put on brass knuckles and started punching and fighting.

Sunday is your last chance to catch our cast’s best zombie impressions in this round of That’s Weird, Grandma! It’s our final performance until December, so be sure to get your tickets here.


What Gives the “That’s Weird, Grandma” Cast the Creeps?

Posted by Tom on October 26, 2018

That's Weird Grandma

We hope the stories in That’s Weird, Grandma: Ghosts, Ghouls, and Talking Potatoes delight Chicago audiences - but perhaps they’re a bit creepy as well?  Possibly! 

To get in the Halloween mood for our performance this Sunday afternoon, I asked the show’s cast and crew what movie or TV show gives them the creeps!

Mary and Izzy think “The Babadook” is creepy.

“The Ring” scares Rachel.

The Black Mirror episode “Crocodile” is nerve-wracking to Victoria.

The episode in “Goosebumps” that features Night of the Living Dummy still petrifies Noah.

Brandon gets spooked by “Beetlejuice.”

Kelen saw “It” last year and it was terrifying.

Jasmine believes the original “Poltergeist” is spine-chilling.

“Silent Hill” is unnerving to Jen.

The original “The Omen” has haunted Jean for years.

Lev feels “Annabelle” is frightening.

And I still have nightmares about “An American Werewolf in London.”

Any of these give you the creeps?

If you want a Halloween experience that’s a bit more on the silly side, join us for That’s Weird, Grandma: Ghosts, Ghouls, and Talking Potatoes this Sunday at 3. And to celebrate the spookiest holiday of the year, we’re throwing a special costume party this weekend only – kids 12 and under who wear a costume to the show get in for free!*  We’ll see you at The Neo-Futurists Theater! 

*Applies to walk-up sales for the Sunday, October 28 performance only. Kids must be accompanied by an adult. Limit three free kids’ tickets per party.