Every Idea is a Good Idea: Selecting Barrel of Monkeys School Show Stories

Posted by Gavin on May 22, 2018

barrel of monkeys chicago rehearsal
“How do you choose the student stories you stage?”

Folks always ask this question about Barrel of Monkeys’ shows. We teach our students that every idea is a good idea, so we don’t simply look for “the best” stories. Instead, we take a combination of factors into consideration – here’s a look at the process for our upcoming North Lawndale school show.

1. Talk Through Classroom Environments

We want to create the best possible show for our students – and that means understanding their personalities and interests. Are they shy? Energetic? Really into a certain video game or musical personality? These tidbits help our cast choose stories that will keep students energized and engaged throughout the performance.

We also encourage our teaching artists to join the school show casts that correspond with the schools they teach in - that way, they can provide insight into creating a show that truly reflects our students’ tastes (like what Joan Figarella is doing in the below photo!)

barrel of monkeys rehearsal chicago

2. Find the Balance

Prior to rehearsal, our North Lawndale teaching teams curate a selection of stories from students’ journals that showcase the breadth of forms and genres they’ve explored during their residencies, ranging from personal narratives to fictional dialogues. The methods students use to write their stories also vary - they create some by writing independently in their journals, while they write others by combining ideas in groups. We want to celebrate our students’ willingness to explore numerous methods, so we ensure that our show represents this variety.

3. Read in a Group

There’s still more selection required in the rehearsal room, though – after all, we only have an hour for the show! Director Mary Tilden passes around a handful of the selected stories and together, performers read stories aloud. This “circle-time” style reading allows our artists to discern how best to adapt each piece for the stage, whether as a dance piece, a comedy sketch, a song, or a dramatic monologue.

For example, when reading through a story about a beloved car that was destroyed in an accident, Rawson Vint decides it would make a fantastic ballad-style song. He’ll take the story home and come back to a later rehearsal with a more fleshed-out musical piece to teach to the cast for the final performance. 

barrel of monkeys chicago

4. Start Adapting!

Once our cast has initial ideas and knows which stories they’ll stage, they begin playing in the rehearsal space and bringing students’ work to life. They might make further changes, with stories added or removed as the show evolves – but for the most part, they’ll dedicate the next few rehearsals to polishing each piece while celebrating our students’ creativity.

Stay tuned this Friday for Instagram stories from our North Lawndale show – we’ll be posting beginning at 10 a.m.

barrel of monkeys chicago

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