Tonight is the first performance of That’s Weird, Grandma: Stories About Food. Not only is it an exciting show because of all the food-themed stories written by Chicago elementary school students, but also, there’s an incredible mix of Barrel of Monkeys company members old and new in the production.
I sat down with one of the newest company members in the show, Noah Appelbaum, to learn more about his summer performing in That’s Weird, Grandma.
How did you discover Barrel of Monkeys?
I had a good friend who was a company member for several years, and it always sounded really exciting whenever she talked about it! Then I became a company member - and she ran away to go to grad school.
Can you describe a memorable experience (or two) you had teaching this year?
Teaching was so fun, and the students I had this year seemed really excited to write and tell their stories. I always really like when kids who tend to be quieter or less participatory in the classroom want to read their stories aloud because they feel proud of their work.
On True Story Day, I got to have a group of fifth-grade reenactors perform the tale of how I broke my arm. They were very thorough and accurate.
What are two stories you’re proud of adapting?
I really enjoyed adapting “The Girl Named Moisture” from Poe Classical School. I was so happy with all of the details the author wrote into the story that we got to include. I got to play a futuristic girl, named Chicken Flavored Seasoning Packet, trying to make friends in the year 9073. Can you ask for anything more?
I was also graced with the opportunity to turn Jordan’s tale from the Poe School’s epic Potato Chip God into a song (featured in That’s Weird, Grandma: Stories About Food!) This story of trying to painstakingly summon The Potato Chip God through feats of strength just seemed really metal to me, so I turned it into a metal song.
Performing it always feels really magical to me, because while I’m playing my guitar and screaming, everyone on stage is so committed. When the Potato Chop God finally shows up, it feels like all of my dreams are coming true.
Noah and fellow Barrel of Monkeys company members performing in the Poe Classical School show.
How did teaching and performing in Chicago’s schools help you get ready for performing in That’s Weird, Grandma?
Teaching and performing at the schools is obviously what it’s all about. You can’t beat the opportunity to perform these stories for the authors and their communities, because nobody else can appreciate them in quite the same way. That said, That’s Weird, Grandma is so much fun, and I love getting to share what I’ve spent all year doing in schools and also getting to share these awesome stories our students wrote with the general public!
Name two things you love about Chicago.
Lots of really good and weird art gets made so constantly here!
[Also], the city is so big and comprises so many diverse neighborhoods and communities! I often forget how much of Chicago exists outside the geographical scope of my usual routine, and it’s always great to be reminded of all the great people and places that are out there.
What’s one non-Barrel-of-Monkeys goal you want to absolutely nail before the end of the year?
I wanted to make a meringue pie, because I hadn’t ever done that before, but I actually just did that recently and it came out great! Boom, goals accomplished!
What are two things you like to do when you’re not performing/teaching?
I practice martial arts—I do wushu and other Chinese martial arts, and recently I’ve been flirting with some BJJ and more MMA-type stuff. It’s just the best exercise, and I really love my martial arts community.
I also really like to play board games. I try to meet up with friends to play some games every weekend if I can!
Noah playing the part of Batman in “Day of the Dark” alongside Meredith Miliron and Kayla Pulley.
See Noah tonight at 8 in our first performance of That’s Weird, Grandma: Stories About Food. We can’t wait to share some of our favorite food-themed stories with you - get your tickets here.
That’s Weird, Grandma: Brand New Stories closed last night, but don’t despair - the first performance of That’s Weird, Grandma: Stories About Food is this Monday, July 23!
The show - directed by former Barrel of Monkeys Artistic Director Joseph Schupbach - features a side-splitting lineup of food-related sketches adapted from our students’ stories. Get a taste (pun intended) of the show in our promo video below, and then join us by purchasing your tickets here.
How did you discover BOM?
A friend of mine took me to see That’s Weird, Grandma shortly after I’d moved to Chicago. She described it as, “I’m not really sure how it works, but kids in CPS write stories, and actors perform them. It’s like Saturday Night Live, kinda.” Sounded cool. While watching the show, I realized that this was actually the reason I’d moved to Chicago.
When I got home I did some internetting to find out how to join, only to discover that I’d missed the auditions by about a week. Then, the next year, there weren’t auditions. Fast forward another six months, Tim Soszko and I were teaching together and he was wearing a Monkey shirt and I asked him if he had any advice on how to join the company. He told me that I should ask about volunteer teaching, and I did. The rest is history.
What were some of your feelings when you auditioned and made it in?
I wasn’t really sure what to do for my audition, so I did a monologue from Amadeus and played the piano. I remember sitting outside the room and hearing lots of auditions that were NOT monologues, and were really making people laugh, and I thought, “I’ve made a terrible decision.”
Once I was in, I remember being in the rehearsal room for the first time and thinking, “I am sooo not good at this. These people are really talented and really funny, and I mostly do Shakespeare tragedies.” It took a long time before I really felt like I belonged in the room, and sometimes I still feel like the classical-actor guy who doesn’t really know what he’s doing.
Tell us three memorable BOM stories that you’re proud of being a part of.
1. “Crazy Monkey” by Tyler B. from LP [Loyola Park After School Program], which is in Grandmaright now.
2. “Veronica the Vegan Vampire” from Lorca [Elementary]. I didn’t actually adapt this, but I taught the author. During the residency, she asked me what “vegan” meant, and I explained it was someone who didn’t eat, drink, or wear anything from an animal. Then she asked, “So is a vegan vampire a vampire who doesn’t drink blood?” I said, “I guess so,” and she said, “Go away, I know how to write this story.”
3. Every persuasive argument about ending violence. Sadly, we read them every year, but I’m honored to have worked with this group of humans who respect the depth and gravity of a child’s writing as much as the humor and absurdity.
Three things you’re going to miss about Chicago.
1. Templestowe Pub
2. Horner Park Farmers’ Market
3. Barrel of Monkeys
Three things you can’t wait to explore/discover in Madison, Wisconsin.
1. Tip Top Tavern
2. Dane County Farmers’ Market
3. Whoopensocker [a theatre program run by Barrel of Monkeys co-founder Erica Halverson]
(What can I say, I’m a creature of habit . . .)
Two things you learned about yourself being a teacher for Loyola Park After School Program?
I learned that I actually love teaching more than performing. And, now as a parent of toddlers, I’m beginning to see how things I learned while teaching have prepared me for parenting.
From anthropomorphized creatures, to talking food, to normal, everyday people, students in Barrel of Monkeys’ arts education programs create unique and imaginative characters that we love bringing to life on the Neo-Futurists’ stage. Some of these characters are so loved by Chicago audiences that they even become staples of the That’s Weird, Grandma repertoire!
Chanyeol - the main character in “With any dark path there is a light at the end…Right?” by Libby P. in our Loyola Park After School Program - is like many other moody teenage boys. He sits in his room, chronicling his angst in a secret journal. The one difference? Chanyeol’s father is a Mafia boss.
With any dark path there is a light at the end…Right? Asking that question every day gets tiring for chanyeol. Being only the mafia’s son, he had no control over his life. He was controlled, every move. Friends? Even if they knew, or cold do something, it wouldn’t make a Difference. His father, the only thing he did was the mafia himself. Controlling, manipulating, feard. Not a thing in Chanyeols life was free, he was destined to be the same as his father while the coming of age . . .
Duli, a duck featured in “Duck Sili” by Isael C. from Graves Elementary, loves being silly. Unfortunately, his mother doesn’t appreciate his unbridled energy and constant dancing - so we watch as she learns to accept her son for who he is, silliness and all.
De Duck whas so sili sosososososo sili the he never stop Bin sili an her mom sed stop and Duli stop den duli fil to never stop den wen duli went to wis room and he stars bin sili. The End
3. The Girl With No Memory
The Girl With No Memory comes to us from Amiyah S., a student at Johnson School of Excellence. No one knows why Racheal lost her memory - not even the host of the podcast that explores this mystery. Their mother and a local doctor try to wrap their minds around this strange phenomenon, accompanied by melodramatic music and spooky narration.
one day their was a little girl who didn’t have any mamory when she got hom she brong her report card and she had all Fs and one a her Mom said how did she get The grade she had but she said nothing mom said racheal yes sweety do you know i got all these Fs sweety said her mom do you remember what happend at school? No i don’t it’s like i lost my memory . . .
We can’t wait for you to meet these folks now through July 16, along with even more characters that our students created during the 2017-18 school year. Our next performance is tonight at 8 - you can grab your tickets here!
It’s been a tradition to introduce new stories to That’s Weird, Grandma after the school year has ended and we’ve performed our end of year show, Celebration of Authors. Not only do we have new sketches - but we also have a cast featuring new performers who haven’t done TWG! We started rehearsing for the show on Saturday in the rehearsal space at the Barrel of Monkeys office in Ravenswood.
On Sunday, we had another rehearsal and then took the show on the road to Rogers Park near the Lake off of Farwell.
Happy Father’s Day - and Super Hot Day, as it was in the 90s.
Joe Schupbach, Mary Tilden, and Rachel Wilson, pre-show!
We were definitely in the thick of things with performers singing, a guy cracking a whip in an open area, and people painting in the Artists of the Wall Festival - but we had to put the show on pause when it started to rain. With electrical equipment, we want to make sure the performers are safe - as well as our paraphernalia.
Barrel of Monkeys is also proud to welcome three Barrel of Monkeys newbies to That’s Weird, Grandma - Noah Appelbaum, Jasmine Jordan, and Ida Cuttler (seen below)!
Following our touring performance, the production’s first show at the Neo-Futurists Theater last Monday had a great audience! We were absolutely energized by the crowd as well as performing with each other after a brief hiatus.