Category: Company Members

Posts about specific BOM company members.

The Monkey Minute!

Posted by Amanda Farrar on March 18, 2015

The Monkey Minute That's Weird Grandma Company Members School Shows School Residencies After School Program

After teaching creative writing residencies in a Chicago Public School or the Chicago Park District, teaching artists collect the students’ notebooks and share them with several of the company’s ensemble of professional actors and musicians. Together, the teaching artists, actors, and musicians adapt selected stories for the stage and return to the school to present an original performance drawn entirely from the student-written material.

The experience of seeing their work performed in front of an audience of their peers is profoundly moving and empowering for the student-authors. The experience of performing student-work for the authors themselves can be intensely challenging and stressful for the Monkeys, because as much as we try, not every adaptation is an A+. As Oona Kersey Hatton experienced, students can be our greatest critics and our greatest teachers.

How do the story adaptations currently being performed in
That’s Weird, Grandma measure up? Come judge for yourself. Tickets available now for Sundays at 2pm through April 26 and only 2 more Monday at 8pm performances!


Adventures in Adaptation
By: Oona Kersey Hatton

I joined Barrel of Monkeys in 2000. At that time we were rehearsing in a converted warehouse space that was used during the day as a doggie daycare. It had a concrete floor and was surprisingly clean, with only the faintest redolence of the daytime occupants.

I was so excited to be in the ensemble, and I had signed up for the first show of the year. One of my first adaptations was a collaboration with Ryan Walters, Erica Rosenfeld Halverson, and Tom Malinowski. I remember very little about the story except that it involved two forest animals getting into a heated altercation that they ultimately brought to the Bottom of the Pond (personified) for mediation. I played the Bottom of the Pond. Other cast members played Bugs Bunny (an example of how celebrity characters frequently appear in stories, often out of context) and other small mammals.

We had a great time with our adaptation, which showed the animals getting into a fight and then trying to resolve the dispute by all sharing their versions of “what really happened.” This meant that we essentially acted out the story three times. In our creative vision, the differences in each repetition—which relied on subtle adjustments to character portrayal—were increasingly hilarious and absurd. In reality, the satire would have been impossible for an audience of any age to discern—first, because the size and acoustics of the performance space would have rendered any but the most exaggerated contrasts impossible to discern, and second, because the audience had very little opportunity to get to know the characters and therefore would have difficulty grasping how they were being parodied.

Even Oona is confused.

If this criticism seems a little heady, take the word of an audience member from that fateful morning. A student sitting in the front row turned to her companion in the middle of our performance and exclaimed, “this story is too long.” We immediately recognized that her assessment was correct, and we enjoyed repeating this pithy critique for years to come.

I left that morning with a few thoughts that my next ten years in Barrel of Monkeys would confirm:
1. The audience is always right.
2. Repetition needs justification.
3. Not every adaptation will be a slam dunk.

I use these and hundreds of other Barrel of Monkeys-lessons every day as I teach and continue to make theatre.

The Monkey Minute!

Posted by Amanda Farrar on March 11, 2015

The Monkey Minute That's Weird Grandma Company Members School Shows School Residencies After School Program

In each and every school show since Barrel of Monkeys’ inception in 1997, one or more student-written stories have been adapted into song for the stage. Multiply that by upwards of 15 original school shows each year, and you have a couple hundred songs in the archives!

We have so many songs, in fact, that presently That’s Weird, Grandma is an all-musical revue! You can see 16 of some of our most favored songs adapted from the incredible work of student writers this Sunday at 2pm and Monday at 8pm. Jennifer Johnson, author of the following blog entry and current performer in That’s Weird Grandma: The Musical, shares some of her most favorite epic Barrel of Monkeys songs that have not yet made their way into the current show! Enjoy celebrating the power of these students’ imaginations!


My Favorite Epic Barrel of Monkeys Songs
By Jennifer Johnson

In the classroom, we encourage students in Barrel of Monkeys writing programs to continue stories they’ve started or we ask specific questions to further their creativity during the writing process. Sometimes, a student is ready to write! And the product is long, detailed, complicated, creative and fabulous. Below are my favorite epically long stories written by students in Chicago Public Schools that we’ve turned into songs.

Jennifer Johnson in That's Weird, Grandma: The Musical

Sculpting Alaska

By Gautam R., Hough Street School
“Let the competition begin,” boomed the announcer, as I quickly started planning out my ice sculpture. Scrape, scrape, scrape, went my carving tool as I knocked away ice. This was the regular carving routine. We were at the 2000 year end ice sculpting contest in Alaska. Nobody would think of such a wonderful sculpture as a fish sculpture. “Hey Jimmy,” a voice shouted, how you doing? Continued!

Sculpting Alaska was brilliantly staged using the entire cast. There are so many great characters to play in this story/song. Two people even played the actual ice sculptures!

IRS Moles

By Ben L., Hough Street School
Eeooo! The sirens rang throughout the city. Speakers popped out of buildings. “Run, the IRS Moles are coming” said the speakers. Everyone ran. They knew that moles would make them pay. “Come on” said Harold to his mother as they ran. “But the cookies” said his mother, “we need them.” “We’ll have to leave them” said Harold. “Dang” said his sister. “I say we fight back against this tax collecting” said Bob who was 2 and very smart. Continued!

I was in the original cast of this—I got to sing “Dang, not the cookies!” It’s one of the best lines I’ve ever sung in a BOM song!

IRS Moles from Barrel of Monkeys on Vimeo.

The Race

By Dorian W., South Loop School
Once upon a time there was a man named Truman.  And he was joining the Big Race finals to win $300.  When he was practicing he run 5 miles a day.  When he run home he took his dog out and ran with his dog.  His dog was named Ace.  His dog was really nice and could run so fast.  He was the fastest dog in the whole world. Truman was a gym teacher. Continued!

I love The Race because in the end Truman races by jumping in the sack—it’s so exciting to watch!

The Evil Kangaroo

By Emilio G., Loyola Park After School Program
Once upon a time in 1212 BC and now in the middle of the ocean there was a city named Freeopolis that no one knew about.  Everyone was happy until Professor Wiggems built an experiment on kangaroos.  It went completely wrong.  The kangaroo escaped and destroyed the city, then when there’s no hope left it’s to be continued…The island sinks and the kangaroo finds a boat. Continued!

Emilio G. wrote many stories about evil kangaroos and Professor Wiggems, but this one is my favorite! It’s staged with lots of action and verses!

A long story creates a wonderful basis for a musical theatre masterpiece!

The Monkey Minute!

Posted by Amanda Farrar on March 4, 2015

That's Weird Grandma Company Members

Do you ever wonder how we put together the stories that are performed in That’s Weird, Grandma? How do we pick just a couple dozen stories from 17 years of incredible student-written stories? How do we showcase a range of schools, types of curriculum, and each ensemble member? Founding member, Jason Sperling, answers all your burning questions!

And, see the delicate balancing act of That’s Weird, Grandma that is currently being directed by Joseph Schupbach at the Neo-Futurist Theater every Sunday at 2pm and Monday at 8pm through March 30! It is an ALL MUSICAL spectacular!


A Day in the Life: Creating the That’s Weird,Grandma Runlist

By Jason Sperling

Putting together the run list for That’s Weird, Grandma is a delicate balancing act.  We are simultaneously serving multiple constituencies: the public audience, the performers, and the children whose voices we are sharing.  Having had the opportunity to direct several rounds of That’s Weird, Grandma, here’s a look at some things we consider when assembling the crackerjack lineup each week.

That's Weird, Grandma
Types of stories: In all of our classroom residencies, each week focuses on a different type of writing, ranging from dialogue to persuasive arguments to true stories.  Having a mixture of all of these represented in That’s Weird, Grandma keeps the show interesting, and lets the audience check out different styles that the students create.  Of course, within each style, there are differing types of adaptation.  A puppet piece, a rap, film noir, straight-forward narrative – one of the strengths of Barrel of Monkeys’ ensemble is that everyone brings a unique set of performing abilities to the table, meaning that any given writing type might have any genre of performance.  It’s also important to check the tone of the stories – I call this “quirk vs. heart.” Those two qualities are not mutually exclusive, but to me it’s very important to have an equal balance in any given That’s Weird, Grandma show.  We want to balance the over-the-top oddities with the heartfelt moments, which ultimately make both resonate more strongly.  One of the goals of performing That’s Weird, Grandma is to raise the profile of Barrel of Monkeys in Chicago while simultaneously championing the vision of the students we work with.  We want to give the audience insight into the heart of what we do, which is working with students in our school (and after-school) programs.

As for the performers, it’s important to try to give everyone a chance to shine.  Everything you see on stage at That’s Weird, Grandma was originally adapted and performed at one of our school residencies, for which we usually have a cast of 12-14 Monkeys.  Each Barrel of Monkeys member signs up for however many school shows their schedules allow, meaning on average everyone in Barrel of Monkeys does 4-6 school shows per year, appearing as 10 or more characters in each show!  They may play the hero of the story in one piece and jump directly into being a carnivorous garbage can in the next.  When we choose stories for That’s Weird, Grandma, we ask the cast for suggestions of stories they were in or saw that they’d like to resurrect.  We want the cast to be having a blast on stage – when that happens, it clearly spreads to the audience too! 

Sometimes we have a disproportionate number of performers who were all in the same school shows, meaning most suggestions come from a limited number of schools.  To offset this, it’s also important to represent a wide variety of schools in the story choices.  We have 17 years of story archives in the Monkey office: audio tapes (!), photocopies, scripts of the earliest work, and DVDs of more recent years.  The staff and interns have also catalogued everything in computer files, letting us search for stories that way too.  Depending on who’s in the show or directing, the stories will be from a wide range of years.

Once the stories have been chosen, we need to choose a running order.  Somehow there’s just a flow that feels right – is a story loud or quiet? An all-play involving the whole cast or just a few people?  Are the song/dance/movement pieces spread throughout the run or bunched together?  Is one performer the featured character in several stories in a row?  Even things such as giving actors time to change costumes, set chairs, or clean up messy props factor in.  Frequently we’ll start with a story that “teaches” the audience how to watch a Barrel of Monkeys show; something with a strong point-of-view, clean beats, and clear Monkey style.  Hopefully this helps any audience members who are new to seeing That’s Weird, Grandma dive right in and journey on with us.  Lastly, we try to let stories that have been put into the order more recently have a little time to find their legs, and when new pieces join each week the whole balancing process starts again!

Creating just the right run list each week is a challenge, but a rewarding and fun one which allows directors to see our work through multiple sets of eyes.

My Decade at Barrel of Monkeys

Posted by Amanda Farrar on December 29, 2014

That's Weird Grandma Company Members School Residencies


It’s me, Joseph Schupbach, the new and fifth Artistic Director of Barrel of Monkeys. I am delighted and honored to be in this role.  I am already having an incredible time watching artists work, teach, and create all while collaborating with Chicago Public School student authors!
Joseph Schupbach

While I started my new role in November, my relationship with Barrel of Monkeys began in 2005 when I was an intern.

I remember that summer very well. I spent most of my days with founding members Halena Kays and Kristie Koehler Vuocolo, which of course was a true delight. I would transcribe cassette tape (you heard me) recording of school shows, proofread grant applications, and sell t-shirts at the Monday night show (That’s Weird, Grandma - tickets available now ).

Even in these small tasks I fell in love with Barrel of Monkeys. I fell in love with the mission, the school programming, the sense of humor, the community, and the radical act of listening to children that is at the center of the work.

Since then, I have filled many other roles: volunteer, ensemble member, teaching artist, company member, lead teacher, director, board member, after-school program coordinator, education coordinator, marketing contractor, and now artistic director. After all of that, through all those jobs, almost 10 years later (this summer is my anniversary!) the things that attracted me to the Monkeys in 2005 are the same things that I value about my organization now.

And I have a feeling they are the things that you love about the Monkeys too:
- our mission,
- our school programming
- our sense of humor
- our strong community
- the radical act of listening to children that is at the center of our work

Unfortunately, all those things don’t fit into an acronym that you can cross stitch on a pillow or slap on a bumper sticker, but Barrel of Monkeys is changing the world one student, one journal, and one audience at a time.

Barrel of Monkeys strives to create, on a small scale, the world we want to share, create, and live in. A world where every idea IS a good idea, where collaboration is celebrated, and where young people are listened to, heard, and protected.

As the year comes to an end I invite you to share in the work that Barrel of Monkeys does daily, by making a donation. Much like in my intern days, every little bit helps. If you have already given your end of year gift, I thank you wholeheartedly. We are currently 85% of our way to our goal for the annual appeal! Check out this thermometer…not even $4,000 more to reach it!

Whether it’s 20 year old me transcribing scripts about space bugs or audience members like you giving even the smallest donation, support is key to our success.

If you have read this far, that means you are considering making a donation! Hooray! Thank you so much for all the support you give to our organization!

Happy New Year!

Joseph Schupbach
Artistic Director & Company Member

It’s the Most Wonderful Hashtag of the Year

Posted by Amanda Farrar on November 27, 2014

That's Weird Grandma Company Members School Residencies After School Program

Why support Barrel of Monkeys through a donation for #GivingTuesday? For your viewing pleasure, we present this video featuring Sonya and Joanya in…

Giving Grannies

Donate Now!

Thank you in advance for supporting the imaginations of children through a donation this #GivingTuesday, December 2! All amounts donated under the program are tax-deductible to the maximum extent allowed by law.  As always, thank you for your support!

Who are Joanya and Sonya?

Sonya and Joanya are two characters that originated from a student-written story by Stephaun B. of the Loyola Park After-School Program entitled “Grannies Lean Like a Cholo” .

Sonya Begonia
Sonya is a lifelong sports enthusiast and patron of the arts.  She has held many roles in her life: Little League coach, small business owner, mother, grandmother, aunt, friend, and part-time life coach.  Her current interests include attending live theater, instant messaging, and going on adventures with her dearest friend in the world, Joanya.

Joanya Merman Nemoy
Actress Joanya Merman Nemoy starred in Golden Twilight Retirement Home productions like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and BUtterfield 8, but was just as famous for her violet eyes and scandalous love life. Born in Brooklyn on February 27, 1932, Joanya made her theatre debut in One Born Every Minute (Long Island Playhouse) and achieved stardom with National Velvet (Jersey Shore Rep).

“Wait a minute. Is this why this young and attractive camera crew is here? I get it now, we’re here to talk about a very specific way to participate in The Hashtag Giving Tuesday.  We are giving to Barrel of Monkeys.  I just figured it out!” - Joanya

Elizabeth Levy (Sonya)
Levy joined the ensemble in 2004 and was hired as Program Director in 2008. Before becoming Program Director, Levy was the Education Coordinator at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Levy graduated from The University of Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature. While at U of C, she ran several drama programs in neighborhood schools in Hyde Park. Elizabeth has performed locally with Steppenwolf Theatre, the House Theatre, Collaboraction, Strawdog and Dog and Pony.

Joseph Schupbach (Joanya)
Schupbach began his involvement with Barrel of Monkeys in 2005 and has served as After-School Program Coordinator and Education Coordinator for the past three years before being promoted to Artistic Director, the position he now holds. Schupbach has served as a professional teaching artist in Chicago for multiple organizations including Lookingglass Theatre and St. Clement School. He has directed shows for Barrel of Monkeys, North Park University, Murakami Sound Machine and InGen Productions – a company of which he is co-founder and Artistic Director. Joseph has assistant directed for The Ruffians and The Neo-Futurists and has performed all over Chicago.