Category: School Residencies

Posts relating to in-school residencies.

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 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!



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!

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