How a Barrel of Monkeys Story is Born: Dr. Doodle Vol 1

Posted by Gavin on April 30, 2018

chicago theatre barrel of monkeys

Our students write new stories nearly every week during our in-school arts education residencies in Chicago elementary schools, so the BOM ensemble always has something new to adapt for the stage. The cast of our Poe Classical School show, directed by Laura McKenzie, is currently in the midst of rehearsals, finding the most interesting ways to represent our students’ creative writing through performance.

Here’s a look at the creative process behind one of these adaptations - Dr. Doodle Vol 1 by Dylan F., a story about an evil witch (played by Barry Irving ) who makes drawings come to life by sprinkling poop on the brain of drawing extraordinaire Dr. Doodle (played by Lizzie Bracken).

1. Start with the Story

First, Laura and the ensemble read through the story to see who has ideas for an adaptation. Will it be a song? A short sketch? A monologue? With Dr. Doodle, cast member Jessie Oliver decided a dance piece with evil drawings moving to Russian classical music would best capture Dylan’s story.

2. Get On Your Feet

chicago theatre barrel of monkeys rehearsal

Next, Jessie walks the cast through her initial blocking, assigning roles, pieces of dialogue, and sound effects, combining her vision for the adaptation with cast members’ strengths. As the performers learn each part, improvised gestures and vocalizations weave their way into the dance, making the adaptation even more zany and fun. This initial run-through also gives everyone a chance to sense how the dance feels on stage before moving onto the next step.

3. Examine all the Details

barrel of monkeys chicago theatre rehearsal

Once everyone has a sense of what the adaptation looks, feels, and sounds like, Laura, stage manager Cedar, and the ensemble run the piece a few more times, tweaking details to create an even better version of the piece. For BOM, “better” means ensuring that the adaptation is true to the author’s writing - so Laura and the cast revisit the story again and identify parts muddled in translation.

For example, Laura notices that how the drawings come to life isn’t clear - so Barry and Lizzie create more dialogue for their characters, clarifying that in the world of the story, sprinkled poop makes the doodles Dr. Doodle thinks of come to life. It’s also not clear how the audience should feel about the dancing drawings - so Laura assigns actors to highlight movements with bursts of evil laughter, accentuating that we should feel worried for Dr. Doodle.

By running the piece multiple times, Laura and the cast find new beats and opportunities for laughs - such as Jessie bursting through a piece of paper as the drawings come to life (below). We want our audience - a room full of elementary school students - to celebrate their peers’ writing with us, and adding wacky moments to adaptations encourages them to laugh and have an incredible time.

barrel of monkeys chicago theatre rehearsal

4. Take a Quick Break

Practice makes perfect - but working on anything for too long leads to stagnation. After a few run-throughs and adjustments, the creative team puts Dr. Doodle to the side and moves onto another piece. They’ll revisit it later in the rehearsal process to continue finding new improvements - but that requires taking a break so everyone can come back to the piece with a fresh perspective.

Want to see the final version of Dr. Doodle Vol 1? Keep an eye on our Instagram stories this Friday morning - we’ll be bringing you sneak-peeks into the Poe school show!


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