Category: The Monkey Minute

Weekly communications from the Monkeys concerning our process, programs, and ideology!

Monkey Minute: From Page to Stage in 18 Hours or Less

Posted by Joe on July 6, 2015

The Monkey Minute Company Members School Shows

Here is another Monkey Minute from super director Meredith!


A Day in the Life: From Page to Stage in 18 Hours or Less
Meredith Milliron

As we arrive at Loyola Park for the first rehearsal, excitement is in the air.  Monkey after monkey arrives in the space as well as a director, we set up the keyboard and, wham!, it’s time to get started. 

We sit in a circle and introduce ourselves to everyone. Then we hear from the teachers. They tell us a little bit about the students and the school. 

Then we dig into the journals.  Each monkey takes a turn reading a story or two from each child.  We then warm up by stretching and playing theater games.  Once we are warm, we divide into groups and grab whatever story inspired someone. Maybe it was a setting, a character, a mood, or they wanted to turn it into a rap…  we listen to their idea and then we discuss and improvise our way through the story.  We run it a couple of times to get down our lines and actions, and then we present it to the director and the larger group.  They help us to solidify our ideas and make it look good on the stage.  We then talk to the manager about what props we need to make, buy or borrow.  Perhaps we need a shark hat or a giant whale?  We might have one in storage or we might have an awesome person in the cast who wants to make it for the show.

We do this again and again until we have 20 stories for the show!

Songs take a longer time to work through, so we normally give that an entire three hour rehearsal.  Normally we have two big songs per show and the closing number which is written by a monkey and performed at each show all year.  The person who wrote the song normally plays it for the group, then we learn it, record it, and put it up on stage.  Sometimes we have a choreographer that teaches us some awesome moves, and sometimes we work as a group to come up with them. We listen to the recording for the rest of the week to memorize it before our performance.

The dress rehearsal is the last night before the show.  We make sure we have all the costumes and props we need for each story.  We run through each song and dance and complicated story before the run, and then we do the entire show for a small audience of other monkeys and friends.  The director takes notes, and we listen to them before we head home that night.

We pack up everything after the dress rehearsal.  Then we meet for breakfast before the show.  We like to meet in the neighborhood of the school.  It’s a good time to go over lines with other monkeys, review our run list and ask any questions and get a good breakfast!

Then we get to the school, set up the stage, run a top and bottoms (which means we start and end each sketch really fast).  We normally run the songs, so we can set the sound levels in the space and practice any dancing.  Then the children arrive and we start the show!

From Page to Stage in 18 hours! 

The End

The Monkey Minute! Adventures in Group Song Writing

Posted by Amanda Farrar on May 14, 2015

The Monkey Minute Company Members Celebration of Authors School Shows School Residencies

As the end of the school year approaches, Barrel of Monkeys is hard at work in the rehearsal room adapting student-written work from our writing residencies for the stage to be performed for the student-authors and their peers in their schools! Emeritus Monkey and past Artistic Director Luke Hatton describes the fast and furious adaptation process and the joys of collaboration to adequately celebrate the voices of students on the stage.

Do you want to see some of the most exciting work from this year performed for the students, their families, and the public? Please join us for the FREE performance of Celebration of Authors on June 2 at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center! This show features one story from each of our residencies conducted during the 2014-15 school year performed by upwards of 30 Monkey actor/educators. Call 312-409-1954 for reservations.


Adventures in Group Song Writing
By Luke Hatton

The Barrel of Monkeys school show rehearsal process is always fast and furious. Every moment is valuable. On a particular day in the Winter of 2010 we were working on an upcoming performance at Columbia Explorer’s Academy. We were missing a few actors, so couldn’t productively review anything we’d already created and nothing that musicians had taken home to adapt was ready to stage. We were stuck.

Philip, one of our musicians, had taken some students’ poems home to adapt into a rap. He said it wasn’t finished. Desperate to use our valuable time productively, I said to him, “Would it be all right if we all work on the rap together?” Fortunately, he said yes. This is a hallmark of how Monkeys operate creatively. There’s rarely if ever ego involved. So Philip played us the instrumental of No Diggity which he was thinking would underscore the piece. People started bopping to the piece. We’d overcome our temporary inertia. Quickly I had everyone grab a partner and one of the pieces and for about 20 minutes the room was alive with pairs of Monkeys spitting mad beats, devising hilarious choreo. The final product was tremendous: total commitment and abandon to the pieces (reprinted below). Group song writing doesn’t always work, but thank god for the ‘yes and’ Spirit of the Monkey, because this time it worked gloriously.

Dixie Uffelman, Philip Markle, and Chris Matthews in Celebration of Authors

Puffins Muffins
By Alejandro I.

Oh baby oh baby
I’m talkin’ puffins you
fly like a kite up in
the sky you like
muffins when
your hand cuffin

By Joshua P.

Oh baby oh baby I’m
talking about Ms. Parise style yo.
I see you writing but you don’t see
me writing. When I see you you don’t
see me because I am under my desk looking
for sandwich extra beef don’t forget the tomato
I’m really hungry. I did eat but I want to eat again
my doctor said you got eat 10 meals day.

By Gustavo P. 

Oh baby oh baby I’m talking about
Skateboarding, at the skate park, you know
how I do it, it’s hard, but I know, I know
ollie, kickflip, 360, 180, 180 kickflip, you know
what I’m talking, oh baby, oh baby. Remix! yo!

Oh baby, Oh baby, I’m O.P.P., It stands for
other peoples’ plastic yo. You got to go
green don’t be a fool, don’t go cheesey afar

All about you
By Alfredo V. 

Oh baby, Oh baby I’m
thinking all about you
Oh, baby, oh, baby I’m
thinking all about you!
You hypnotize all about you!
I can’t stand all about you!
You should not leave me around
I will hunt you down. I will
search you down! I’m thinking all
about yooouuuuuuuuuuuuu!
Were the only one to kiss
would look!

Lollipop Chair
By Miriam H. 

Look at my candy.
“Oh no the bug eat it.
look at my candy again.
look how delicious is it
“ill the bug eat it again.
Pop the candy broke.
“Oh my god what am I going to do
Pop the candy broke again.

The Monkey Minute! Happy Mother’s Day

Posted by Amanda Farrar on May 7, 2015

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

Barrel of Monkeys teaches writing residencies to students, but more often than naught it’s us who are receiving the education. There are many lessons to learn from the pens of elementary school students, and below are some that I, Amanda Farrar, have learned about what it is to be a mother.

Do you want to learn about our programs and learn from students, too? Watch this news story from CBS Chicago that aired last week and then peruse our story archives for more immersion into the wonderful imaginations of children.

Reminder: We are on a hiatus from That’s Weird, Grandma but summer Monday night performances start again on June 8!
5 Motherhood Lessons
By Amanda Farrar

Lesson #1: The first lesson I learned about being a mom from student-authors is from “Bagels or Nothing”. “I want a SNAAACCCKKKK!” is a constant plea in my household. I took this lesson from Toby R.’s mother, and offer one snack of my choice, or nothing. Sometime my daughter picks nothing. Sometimes she eats the thing I’ve offered. But the negotiation tactic totally works. Thanks, Toby and Toby’s mom!

Untitled (Bagels or Nothing)
By Toby R, Dawes Elementary

My mom said I had to pick nothing or bagels I pickt nothing. I don’t like bagels.

Lesson #2: Mothers, like everyone, are not infallible. Our bad and sad days are their bad and sad days, too.

Good Days and Bad Days
By Joemy P., Johnson School of Excellence

I believe I want to change bad days to good days sad days to happy days far days to close days scared days to brave days.  So people won’t be mad or people won’t be bad.  So people can have good day.  I wish my mom would have better days.  THen bad days she can have lovely days.  Some people are not equal.  So are not happy.  SO that I don’t have to be scared.  Why I believe in miracles.  The End

Lesson #3: If it comes down to it, your mom will kick butt. Even to battle a celebrity-monster/monster-celebrity.

Untitled (Beach)
By Lynda H., 4th Grade, Chalmers School of Excellence

On a hot sunny day I went to the beach with my mom. At the beach it was all super stars and the stars didn’t talk to me, so I went up to Hannah Montana and I said “hi” and she said the same, but that wasn’t really Hannah Montana it was a monster. I knew it was a monster because he pulled of his wig and mask. So he pick me up and I call my mom then she came to kick his butt and after that we went home and I tell my sister and brother all about it. The name of the stars was Lil Wayne, Justin Beiber, Sonny With a Chance and Chris Brown.

The maid and mom in

Lesson #4: How hard you work to get it all done? Yeah. They get it. Probably more than you realize.

The Darkness
By Taniya J., Willa Cather Elementary School

Once upon a time there was a lady who was by herself and she was just looking around and she was on the bridge. She wanted to swim home in the water but she had on her work clothes so she couldn’t because she had to go to work in the morning and the whole family was going out and there was nobody to watch her kids so her kids were about to go with their dad but he had work in the morning too and then her kids start crying so then she said to herself I need to swim home but I got on my work clothes and I got work in the morning and the clouds were dark and scary and she saw a scary mountains then she saw her husband and her kids and then her whole family came and saved her and she hopped in the car and went home. THE END.

Lesson #5: By doing you what you do as a parent for your child, you can be their superhero.

Superhero Story (my mom)
By Destiny C., 4th Grade, Chalmers School of Excellence

My Super hero is my Mom. Her powers are too take care of me and her 2 other kids. What happen was she took care of me as I grew up. It’s my point of view because I’m telling people who is my hero and superhero because she’s a nice mom who do things for me like put clothes on my back, and she’s a person who have strong powers by doing stuff like getting me up in the morning, taking me to fun place, and most of all trying to help me get an education.

Thank you for all the lessons, student-authors. And thank you to all the moms, and dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, foster parents…anyone who helps raise a young person.


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.