Category: Company Members

Posts about specific BOM company members.

The Monkey Minute!

Posted by Amanda Farrar on April 29, 2015

The Monkey Minute That's Weird Grandma Company Members Celebration of Authors School Shows School Residencies

Barrel of Monkeys teaches creative writing residencies in Chicago Public Schools to third through fifth grade students. During our time with students, the team of five teaching artists create a safe and supportive space for students to express themselves. Company member Marika Mashburn tells us about some of the more heart-wrenchingly beautiful stories written by our student-authors and adapted for the stage by Barrel of Monkeys.

Be radically kind to one another, Monkey friends! We’ll see you at our performances this summer beginning Monday, June 8.


5 Beautiful Stories from the Hearts of Children
By Marika Mashburn

You might think that a theatre company who adapts stories about Monsters, Aliens and Dinosaurs only has a bunch of weird and happy stories in its wheelhouse.  But here at Barrel of Monkeys, our teaching artists encourage Chicago Public School scholars to write whatever they wish – no judgments on the subject or theme.  Sometimes, those beautiful stories will truly break your heart.  Here are five stories about heartbreak and loss, written by Chicago Public School students, that we have adapted for the stage.

Company Members perform

Two Friends
By Ashley F., Garfield Park After School Program

Once upon a time there was a T-Rex named Corey.  Everyday he went to his job where he ate cars.  He ate trucks, long trucks with lots of metal.  One day he saw a rat that was 10 inches.  He screamed, “Mommy!”
T-Rex: Mommy!
Rat: You don’t have to be afraid of me.
T-Rex: But I am.
Rat: (starts crying…cries real hard.  Hard enough to make a big puddle)
T-Rex: I’m sorry.
Rat: You hurt my feelings.
T-Rex: You want to play with me and have fun together?
Rat: Yes.
T-Rex: Do you want to be my friend?
Rat: Yes I will like to be your friend.
T-Rex: Friends forever and ever.
They play by the pad together.  Then he said “We’re going to do everything together forever.”  The next day Corey the T-Rex had to go to work then he went to rats house and said, “Do you want t come with me to work?” “Yes I like that.”
T-Rex: Boss I found someone to be the clean up boy.
Rat: I’m going to be a clean up boy.
T-Rex: Yes you are.
Rat: started crying, cause he was happy.
One day the rat is taking out all of the metal.  Then people circle around him.  They kick him, they punch him so hard that he died.  The T-Rex came he started crying and running.  I’m sorry I let that happen but the rat was dead.

This wonderful narrative/dialogue was performed in our Barrel of Monkeys 5th Anniversary Season Special.  It made our audiences laugh and cry. 

My Dreams of My Dad Visiting Me
By Rachel D., Graham Elementary School

Every Dream I have my dad appears he started to appear after 12:00 three days after he died and he appears and we always start off dancing and he sings a song about loving me he always tries to remind me but when he goes to say I love you I had to wake up at 6:30 and get ready for the day and I always think about it and last Sunday he got to tell me everything like I love you, your safe, don’t cry, will see each other again, and we remember each other using are hearts, that’s what my dreams are.  The End.

This personal narrative was staged simply and sweetly, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when we performed it for Celebration of Authors

Untitled by Rene, Avondale-Logandale Elementary School

Once upon a time there was a very sad microwave oven because they did not use it to heat up food.  It always cried every night because they did not use it and it wanted to leave from the house and leave to other things and following day they were going to use for the first time but it (the microwave) wasn’t there and they looked for it and called the police and put papers (flyers) saying looking for a microwave oven and at last / finally they found it in a house.  The End.

Nobody likes to feel underutilized, and we turned this cautionary tale into a jazzy number that was a huge hit. 

The Tiny Door in the Back of My Closet
By Tyler W., Cleveland School

I had never noticed the tiny door in the back of my closet before. I opened and saw a friendly monster that was scared of me. Then in a few more weeks and he knew me well and we started to play in my room. Then my mom came in and the monster had to hide. Then my mom said that I had to clean my room then my mom closed the door. After that the monster came out and help me clean my room and we finished the room quickly then we played some more and then the monster fainted. Then he got up in an hour. Then he died.

Every kid needs a best friend they can count on, and losing that best friend can sometimes make you feel happy and sad, all at the same time.  We explored having all of the feelings when we adapted this story for the stage. 

Eunice Woods performs

My Streets is Always Quiet

By Takayla N., New Sullivan Elementary School

I believe that I want my streets to be quiet and peaceful.  And I don’t want no fighting or gun shots.  If my street was peaceful, me and my friends could play outside and play jump rope.  If my street was quiet and peaceful I would be less bored because I could go outside instead of having to stay inside.  If there were no arguments on my street I could say hello to my neighbors, I could hang out, and then go back outside and have fun.  That is why I believe my street should be quiet and peaceful.  The End.

This lovely argument was turned into a beautiful song, and has been featured recently in That’s Weird, Grandma.


The Monkey Minute!

Posted by Amanda Farrar on April 24, 2015

The Monkey Minute Company Members School Shows School Residencies

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.

A reminder, after Sunday’s 2pm performance of That’s Weird, Grandma, the theater is dark until June 8, but there’s always a green light for making a donation to support the imaginations of children!


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.

Tim Soszko

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.

The Monkey Minute!

Posted by Amanda Farrar on April 16, 2015

The Monkey Minute Company Members School Residencies

There is a predominant concept in improvisation which is “Yes, and!” The idea is that if your partner presents an idea, your job it support the idea and add to it. Barrel of Monkeys embraces this concept in all of our work, and ask any Monkey and they will tell you that Tom Malinowski is the embodiment of “Yes, And”. More than a concept to be used on the stage, Tom encourages us all to use it in our lives day to day. The following is the “How To” guide from the “Yes, And” guru! Enjoy.

You can practice your “Yes, And” skills with Barrel of Monkeys! For example: “Yes! I will read this article AND I will come to the matinee performance of That’s Weird, Grandma on Sunday at 2pm!” OR “Yes, I will come to the matinee on Sunday AND I will make a donation to support the imaginations of children!”


Yes, And: A Lifestyle
By Tom Malinowski

Journeys can take on a multitude of forms – a trek across the cosmos, figuring out how to drink a purple ocean, and even changing a square tire.  Hesitation is normal and natural when it comes to embarking on journeys, both strange and familiar.  Barrel of Monkeys helps foster creativity and confidence through writing and acting.  During the 1st day of a Barrel of Monkeys elementary school residency, the kids are apprehensive yet eager to participate in the activities – warming up, brainstorming characters and ideas, and finally creating a story.  Even though we try our best to create an atmosphere of openness and ‘just write anything,’ there’s that pause a student can have when it comes to having such a boundless imagination.  “Can I write about my sister who picks on me?”  “I don’t know if I want to write about dragons eating cars or cats liking cheese.” “I think all children should have free video games.”  We say YES to these ideas AND we want a bit more.  “Yes to your sister, and can you describe her”  “Yes to both dragons and cats, and what kinds of cars do the dragons eat?”  “Yes to free video games, and is it ok if adults like free video games too?”  A little bit of detail goes a long way.  We accept their ideas which are amazing and funny.  We want to be clear to them too why we like what they’re creating.  “I like how you describe the lake because it reminds me of a vacation I took when I was your age.”  “That’s funny because a bug would say that to the bird!” 

Tom, Rani, and Lacy

When the performers and educators take to the stage and adapt a child’s story, we continue our “YES, AND” philosophy.  We want to stay true to the story and not overstep any boundaries, nor do we want to make the story simplistic.  Barrel of Monkeys has been around since 1997, and that in itself shows that we have succeeded in helping so many ideas come out of the best place: a child’s imagination. And one way we celebrate this is by bringing it to the stage.  The actors are in a constant flux of give and take, which is the ultimate YES, AND.  These stories deserve to come alive in the best way possible. 

At first I was hesitant in teaching for Barrel of Monkeys, but it opened my eyes to the whimsical, hilarious world of kids.  I was also nervous about auditioning for Barrel of Monkeys. But in the end I said yes, and ended up teaching and performing with Barrel of Monkeys for over 13 years. Being a performer and educator helped me to choose the path of a librarian.  I now reside in Boise, Idaho and I’m one of the Branch Librarians for Boise Public Library.  Although I miss my comrades and being in the classroom, I’m still doing YES, AND with my story times, outreach programs, and dealing with the public.  “YES I can help you find that book, AND may I make a suggestion as well?” 

The Monkey Minute!

Posted by Amanda Farrar on April 9, 2015

The Monkey Minute That's Weird Grandma Company Members

Barrel of Monkeys has upwards of 65 active members. These company and ensemble members lovingly refer to themselves as “Monkeys”. Monkeys act as teaching artists in the classroom, adapt the stories written by the students for the stage, perform them for the students in the schools, and finally, perform for YOU at That’s Weird, Grandma almost every week.

Each Monkey is paid for their work in the schools, but donate their time to perform in That’s Weird, Grandma to allow the revenue generated from these public performances to support our arts education programs in schools that need them the most.

Below, Lacy Campbell describes what it’s like to walk into a show that has been going on almost nonstop since 2001. You can see her and all her Monkey friends Sundays at 2pm through April.


It’s Hard To Be Laura McKenzie
By Lacy Campbell

One of the [many] joys of being in That’s Weird, Grandma is that as a company member of Barrel of Monkeys, you can hop in and out of shows. Have some time on your hands? Sign up to do the show for six weeks! Want to do a play with another theater? No problem, sit the next one out and someone else will step in for you. 

However, since the cast is constantly shifting in a fruitbasket turnover of tangled wigs and tutus, this means that many of us end up sharing roles. For example, Laura McKenzie won’t be in the next few weeks of That’s Weird, Grandma, so I’m taking over a few of her roles.

But here’s the real problem:
I can’t be Laura!!!

The facial expressions!? The physical comedy!? Her reaction when Horsewolf eats her hair and she’s initially furious, then realizes it’s Horsewolf and beams with pride and delight?* …Guys, I have huge shoes to fill.

But that’s the thing. I gotta fill them, and somehow, I will. On Sunday at 2pm.

Last weekend, in our seven-hour “learn, stage, and perform an entire show!” frenzied sprint that is New That’s Weird, Grandma Cast Weekend, the entire cast took on this impossible task in different ways. Mary Winn has to be Ryan in I Am A Butcher and I Love Meat. Gwen has to take over for Jen in Tragic Fireworks, and some poor soul has to step into Donnell’s role in Princess Who Don’t Like Ketchup.

Mary Winn Heider, Lacy Campbell & Rachel Wilson in
In Monkeys, we are constantly raising the bar for each other by trying to be as wonderful as the person who went before us.

Who was the first dog you saw in The Dog Was Dead? I can no longer remember if the first dog I saw was Kristie, Molly, Erica, or Emjoy.  They all are fantastic. They all are hilarious. I guarantee they all felt terrified that they couldn’t possibly be as amazing as the dog who went before.

They all were.
We all are.
Show’s at 2:00pm on Sunday. See you there!

*all these things actually happen. Please see Horsewolf, it’s such a good story.

The Monkey Minute!

Posted by Amanda Farrar on March 26, 2015

The Monkey Minute Company Members School Residencies

Three years ago, Barrel of Monkeys had the wonderful opportunity to offer our arts education program as part of Super 7, an after-school program for girls at Willa Cather Elementary created by singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Janelle Monae. Barrel of Monkeys has been excited to continue this project with Super 7 for the past three years. A 12+ session program, as opposed to our typical 6 session program, the teams have been able to add new curricula and create impactful connections with the students. For the first two years, Zoe Schwartz was a teaching artist for this program, but was unable to continue her participation in year three due to other commitments. What follows is Zoe’s lament regarding missing the pleasure of working in the program this year.

Want to support our school programs? An easy and fun way is to attend our fundraiser on Saturday, March 28! The Big Wedding: Everyone Get Married is a big celebration of this story and all the 6,000 stories that will be written this school year!


Zoe, I won’t Never Understand You: A letter to the Super 7 Girls
By Zoe Schwartz

Dear Super 7 Girls*,

I miss you. I miss you soooooo much. After teaching at your program for the last two years, it is weird to not be spending time with you. I remember our first year when there were 10 of you. Two girls for every teacher. It was kind of an amazing way to get to know you. We got to spend so much time hearing each of your stories and seeing your amazing voices develop over our residency. And some of those stories I will never forget: Pretty Skunks, Hello Kitty and the Dog, and that one time Fontayza wrote the line “Zoe, I won’t never understand you.” Me neither, Fontayza. Me neither.

Monkey Teaching Artists & Janelle Monae

Because we were a small group and such BFFS we even had the chance to make and keep a lot of really funny inside jokes. I know I still smile every time someone mentions burgers and corn! (Sorry other readers- inside joke with my BFFs from Super 7 Girls!)

Then last year, as the 3rd graders turned into very mature 4th graders and you got a new bunch of 3rd graders and the group doubled in size? So exciting. To be able to spend time with the girls I already knew and on top of that get to become BFFs with the new class of Super 7 Girls was incredible. I loved watching the girls I knew really well write even bigger and more developed stories and then turn to help the younger girls remember to include a setting or figure out a way to end their story. Teaching at your program two days a week for 8 weeks meant that I was spending more time with you than some of my friends! That’s crazy!

I really specifically remember this one time last year when we were going over the agreements. (In case you don’t know - Barrel of Monkeys has five agreements that the students go over at the beginning of each class to remind us of the importance of every idea being a good idea, supporting each other, respect, listening, and being safe.)  You girls knew them like the back of your Monsters High Backpack. We were struggling as teachers for a way to keep them exciting and interesting to you. That day, Donnell had the great idea to sing them. He had individual girls sing each agreement in a different style. And boy did you guys rock it. I hadn’t seen that much commitment to those agreements since they were probably first written by Monkeys from the Stone Age one million years ago.

Because we had such a long schedule last year, we got to have some really fun writing theme days that aren’t usually in our curriculum. I remember that time we got a letter from an alien and got to save its planet! And that time we made a newspaper! And that time we got to sit around an (imaginary) campfire and tell spooooooky stories. Each of these days you guys brought so much energy and excitement to the room. Even days when you were hungry, angry, or sleepy, you would still find a way to show off your excellent imaginations. I think this was because you felt that Barrel of Monkeys was important. I think you always pulled through because you knew that we were doing something special in that room every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. You knew this was the time you got to be YOU and figure out how to express that to the world. And it was sure incredible to witness that magic for two years in a row.

Like I said earlier, you girls rock and I miss your magical girl power every day!