Category: The Monkey Minute

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

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 April 1, 2015

The Monkey Minute

The Big Wedding: Everyone Get Married was a Fancy Schmancy Fundraiser benefiting Barrel of Monkeys, and the event held on March 28th marked our 13th fundraiser. Thank you for all who came out and celebrated the imaginations of children! What was the amount raised to support our work in Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Park Districts, you ask? $34,325 and counting! Board Member, Mike Maddaloni, provides his point of view of his first Barrel of Monkeys’ gala.


The Big Wedding Was Outrageous!
By Mike Maddaloni

It was about 11:30 pm last Saturday night. The last of the guests of the Barrel of Monkeys’ annual Fancy Schmancy gala, “The Big Wedding,” had left the Drucker Center in Chicago and it was time to clean up. As the lights came up, the space that was this great event was transformed back to its primary function as 2 gymnasiums, prompting me to stand there in disbelief, and the only word I could use to describe it?


When I say outrageous, I mean it in a good way. No, I mean it in a great way. If you are curious to why this came to mind, it was a line that Lionel Richie shouted over and over and over during the 1985 American Music Awards – you can get a taste of it here in this YouTube video.

The Big Wedding: Everyone Get Married

These adjoining halls just hours before were the intimate setting for a great fundraiser and party for Barrel of Monkeys, not to mention the setting for a wedding of Rosanna and Buck, the story by a student of a Barrel of Monkeys’ creative writing class that inspired the theme for the event. From once you entered and got your corsage and then over to the gift registry, silent auction, candy buffet, photo booth and bar (what’s a wedding without a bar?), then into the main wedding reception complete with tables for guests and the dance floor. Designed by the creative team that puts on That’s Weird Grandma and our other shows, it was a truly beautiful space with plenty of room to dance and socialize with friends or complete strangers.

The Drucker Center was not the only thing decked out for the night. Many people wore wedding dresses, tuxedos, tacky bridesmaid dresses as well as other choices for dressy attire. The theme of the wedding, which was performed by the company actors, engaged all of the attendees, who watched from either their tables or chairs resembling a house of worship. The fact that everyone “got into it” made the night even more fun.

Of course this was not a complete surprise to me, but as I had never been to a Barrel of Monkeys gala event before, I had not experienced first-hand the magic and elegance of it all. I just joined the Board of Directors for the organization last fall, and this was my first major event with them. With the coupling of the aforementioned creative team and help from the staff, company, board and friends of the Monkeys, the transformation to a great space was possible.

Overall the night was a success. Thanks to the handiwork of many who worked to setup, run and takedown the event, as well as the myriad of sponsors and donors of items to the silent auction, it was a true win-win for Barrel of Monkeys and all the students they teach, as well as those in attendance on Saturday evening.

If you don’t believe me, look for photos for yourself on our social media channels – Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It was truly an outrageous night in Chicago – if you were there, thank you, and if you were not, as we say here in the Windy City… next year!

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.