Every Idea is a Good Idea: Selecting Barrel of Monkeys School Show Stories

Posted by Gavin on May 22, 2018

barrel of monkeys chicago rehearsal
“How do you choose the student stories you stage?”

Folks always ask this question about Barrel of Monkeys’ shows. We teach our students that every idea is a good idea, so we don’t simply look for “the best” stories. Instead, we take a combination of factors into consideration – here’s a look at the process for our upcoming North Lawndale school show.

1. Talk Through Classroom Environments

We want to create the best possible show for our students – and that means understanding their personalities and interests. Are they shy? Energetic? Really into a certain video game or musical personality? These tidbits help our cast choose stories that will keep students energized and engaged throughout the performance.

We also encourage our teaching artists to join the school show casts that correspond with the schools they teach in - that way, they can provide insight into creating a show that truly reflects our students’ tastes (like what Joan Figarella is doing in the below photo!)

barrel of monkeys rehearsal chicago

2. Find the Balance

Prior to rehearsal, our North Lawndale teaching teams curate a selection of stories from students’ journals that showcase the breadth of forms and genres they’ve explored during their residencies, ranging from personal narratives to fictional dialogues. The methods students use to write their stories also vary - they create some by writing independently in their journals, while they write others by combining ideas in groups. We want to celebrate our students’ willingness to explore numerous methods, so we ensure that our show represents this variety.

3. Read in a Group

There’s still more selection required in the rehearsal room, though – after all, we only have an hour for the show! Director Mary Tilden passes around a handful of the selected stories and together, performers read stories aloud. This “circle-time” style reading allows our artists to discern how best to adapt each piece for the stage, whether as a dance piece, a comedy sketch, a song, or a dramatic monologue.

For example, when reading through a story about a beloved car that was destroyed in an accident, Rawson Vint decides it would make a fantastic ballad-style song. He’ll take the story home and come back to a later rehearsal with a more fleshed-out musical piece to teach to the cast for the final performance. 

barrel of monkeys chicago

4. Start Adapting!

Once our cast has initial ideas and knows which stories they’ll stage, they begin playing in the rehearsal space and bringing students’ work to life. They might make further changes, with stories added or removed as the show evolves – but for the most part, they’ll dedicate the next few rehearsals to polishing each piece while celebrating our students’ creativity.

Stay tuned this Friday for Instagram stories from our North Lawndale show – we’ll be posting beginning at 10 a.m.

barrel of monkeys chicago

Preparing for a Two-Show Monday at Sherman School of Excellence

Posted by Brandon on May 11, 2018

Artistic Director Brandon here!

The cast and I are having a blast rehearsing for Barrel of Monkey’s upcoming school shows at Sherman School of Excellence. This is our second year bringing our arts education programming to Sherman - and everyone is especially excited that we will get to perform this show twice!

The first show on Monday morning is specifically for the student authors and their school community. Then, that afternoon, we’ll return for an encore performance for their friends and family. The show features stories with dancing diapers, women taking over the White House, and a bad hair day.

And as always, our students keep their writing current - check out this dialogue included in the show, featuring Barrel of Monkeys Program Director Shá Norman as Jay-Z, and guest artist Graig Tertulien as Kanye West.

Shá Norman and Graig Tertulien rehearse Rappers Airport Beef by Dynasty H.

Rappers Airport Beef by Dynasty H.
Setting: Airport
Characters: Kanye West, Jay-Z

Jay-Z: Man Kanye whats yo problem? (Concerned)

Kanye: Look Bro I’m just doing me (cocky, arrogant)

Jay-Z: you need to chill out you doing (snaping) too much that’s why my wife don’t want me hanging with you anymore

Kanye: Dude I’m the GOAT (LOUD) Greatest of All Time… you NEED to hang out with me!!

Jay-Z: Naw I can’t do that I’m about to catch this jet. You Riding that Delta plane. (sarcastic)

Kanye: Aww so you got jokes bro. That’s how you feel? (hurt)

Jay-Z: peace bro

Kanye: check 100

The End.

Be sure to keep an eye on our Instagram this Monday - we’ll be updating our stories during both performances!

How a Barrel of Monkeys Story is Born: Dr. Doodle Vol 1

Posted by Gavin on April 30, 2018

chicago theatre barrel of monkeys

Our students write new stories nearly every week during our in-school arts education residencies in Chicago elementary schools, so the BOM ensemble always has something new to adapt for the stage. The cast of our Poe Classical School show, directed by Laura McKenzie, is currently in the midst of rehearsals, finding the most interesting ways to represent our students’ creative writing through performance.

Here’s a look at the creative process behind one of these adaptations - Dr. Doodle Vol 1 by Dylan F., a story about an evil witch (played by Barry Irving ) who makes drawings come to life by sprinkling poop on the brain of drawing extraordinaire Dr. Doodle (played by Lizzie Bracken).

1. Start with the Story

First, Laura and the ensemble read through the story to see who has ideas for an adaptation. Will it be a song? A short sketch? A monologue? With Dr. Doodle, cast member Jessie Oliver decided a dance piece with evil drawings moving to Russian classical music would best capture Dylan’s story.

2. Get On Your Feet

chicago theatre barrel of monkeys rehearsal

Next, Jessie walks the cast through her initial blocking, assigning roles, pieces of dialogue, and sound effects, combining her vision for the adaptation with cast members’ strengths. As the performers learn each part, improvised gestures and vocalizations weave their way into the dance, making the adaptation even more zany and fun. This initial run-through also gives everyone a chance to sense how the dance feels on stage before moving onto the next step.

3. Examine all the Details

barrel of monkeys chicago theatre rehearsal

Once everyone has a sense of what the adaptation looks, feels, and sounds like, Laura, stage manager Cedar, and the ensemble run the piece a few more times, tweaking details to create an even better version of the piece. For BOM, “better” means ensuring that the adaptation is true to the author’s writing - so Laura and the cast revisit the story again and identify parts muddled in translation.

For example, Laura notices that how the drawings come to life isn’t clear - so Barry and Lizzie create more dialogue for their characters, clarifying that in the world of the story, sprinkled poop makes the doodles Dr. Doodle thinks of come to life. It’s also not clear how the audience should feel about the dancing drawings - so Laura assigns actors to highlight movements with bursts of evil laughter, accentuating that we should feel worried for Dr. Doodle.

By running the piece multiple times, Laura and the cast find new beats and opportunities for laughs - such as Jessie bursting through a piece of paper as the drawings come to life (below). We want our audience - a room full of elementary school students - to celebrate their peers’ writing with us, and adding wacky moments to adaptations encourages them to laugh and have an incredible time.

barrel of monkeys chicago theatre rehearsal

4. Take a Quick Break

Practice makes perfect - but working on anything for too long leads to stagnation. After a few run-throughs and adjustments, the creative team puts Dr. Doodle to the side and moves onto another piece. They’ll revisit it later in the rehearsal process to continue finding new improvements - but that requires taking a break so everyone can come back to the piece with a fresh perspective.

Want to see the final version of Dr. Doodle Vol 1? Keep an eye on our Instagram stories this Friday morning - we’ll be bringing you sneak-peeks into the Poe school show!


Hearts To Arts

Posted by Bradford on November 8, 2017

Education School Shows

I have to tell you my friends…..it never gets old. The reaction of authors when their names are called and their stories are performed on stage is absolutely PRICELESS!!! And there were plenty of priceless moments in Katten Landau Studio, when the Hearts to Arts show came to a close this weekend. The audience loved it, and the tribute to the graduating campers was truly inspiring.  As promised here’s a few pics from the show!

L Mack

Laura plays the super villain in The Rise of the Can AKA Cantastrophe

Wally The Walrus

My fancy Wally the Walrus hat in Orangey & Wally Crazy Summer


Tyler’s intro for Dear Purse Landlord story

Mary Purse

Mary, Nancy and Lindsey in Dear Purse Landlord

Thanks for reading and have a great week!!!



The Hearts to Arts Auditorium Show

Posted by Bradford on October 31, 2017

Education School Shows

New Monkeys, A New Space, the first show of the year…Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Brandon our fearless director

This summer Barrel of Monkeys did a residency with Hearts to Arts, a camp run by the Auditorium Theater for kids who have experienced the loss of a parent. During the four day workshop, kids wrote amazing stories ranging from King Banana Face, Cannibal Cows, to people trying to ride the bus with no money. Adding to the excitement, it’s one of the first rehearsals in our new space, and three awesome Artistic Associates are doing their first school show. Noah Appelbaum, Tyler Liams, and stage manager Rachael Koplin are truly awesome in their Barrel of Monkeys debuts. That’s what I’m talkin’ about indeed!

Meet the New Monkeys Yall!

Noah Appelbaum
Noah Appelbaum

Tyler Liams
Tyler Liams

Rachael Koplin
Rachael Koplin

Under the direction of our fearless director Brandon Cloyd, The Auditorium Theater Hearts to Arts show is sure to be a blast. Check back next week for pics from the show!