Posted by Alexis on June 7, 2010
The first in a series of monthly interviews with members of Barrel of Monkeys.
How long have you been with Barrel of Monkeys?
I’ve been with Barrel of Monkeys since the Fall of 2003. After graduating from Northwestern, where I was in Griffin’s Tale, I said to my friend Laura Gray, “I have to keep doing this work, I hear there’s a professional company, how do I become a part of it.” And she introduced me to the Monkeys.
Do you have a favorite BOM story to perform right now?
Oh geez, well right now we’ve brought back an old favorite called Eddie’s Rim Shop, where I play Eddie’s wife ... it’s fun to do that story. I also like stories like The Beat where you have to get something right.
What do you do when you’re not being a Monkey?
I work for Steppenwolf Theater Company and I’m the Production Coordinator there. So it’s always fun when I get to see my Monkey pals at Steppenwolf, and whenever I read in someone’s bio at like the Goodman Theater or Steppenwolf ensemble member at Barrel of Monkeys, it’s like “That’s right! Check it!”
What does Production Coordinator mean?
Production Coordinator is kind of a weird title - basically I am the Assistant Production Manager. What that means is along with my boss (the Production Manager) I help oversee the Steppenwolf Production Department - who are the people that make the scenery, the costumes, hang the speakers, point the lights, run the show and in general do everything to make the play happen. Production managers are responsible for managing budgets, calendars and people. If we have done our job correctly, the show opens on time, under budget, and is just as the director and designers want it, with everyone working on the show feeling satisfied, and probably with a beer in their hand on opening night.
Do you have any pets?
Yes, I have a monster named Booker T. Uffelman. He’s an eleven month old English Bulldog, and he’s the most handsome dog in all of Chicago. He’s very charming ... he’s at home right now eating ice cubes.
Okay, so pretend you can’t be a Monkey or a Production Coordinator at Steppenwolf. What is your dream job?
Butter judge. No question. I’d be a butter judge. One day I was flipping through a food magazine and there was a full-page ad for some kind of artisinal butter. It said “winner of the something-something prize and the something-something prize for fine butters.” I put my university education to use and said, “if there are prizes for butter, there is someone whose job it is to taste butter and judge it …. Butter judge.” Absolutely my dream job. Oh my lord, you just spread it on a baguette and taste it and take notes, and compare it to the other butter, and then you mix it in with vegetables … That, or the people who take care of bee emergencies. You know, there are people who are a squad and they go take care of bee disasters. So butter taster or the volunteer bee squadron.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I think when I was in second grade I answered that question and I wrote, “I wish to be a famous movie director like Mel Brooks.” My second grade teacher was like, “Oh, you don’t know who that is. You can’t have seen Mel Brooks movies.” And then I started quoting Blazing Saddles and Mrs. Benjamin got really concerned. But I wanted to be funny and make people laugh with classic films, like Spaceballs.
Do you have a memory of writing a story in elementary school?
Yeah, I loved writing stories. I remember one I co-authored with my friend Jessica. This was third grade and we were studying the Northwest Coast Indians, so we wrote a time travel epic about a girl and she didn’t have any money and goes to the Museum of Natural History and she gets sucked into living with a Northwest coast Indian tribe. But there’s some guy who wants to shut down the museum.
I never “co-authored” as a child—did you do that a lot?
Oh, I loved to co-author as a kid. I don’t have a lot of follow through, and that was true back then. So I’d come up with the idea and then I’d be like, “Jessica, you should flesh that out.”
What do you miss about being a kid?
Umm, I don’t miss a lot about being a kid to be honest. I don’t know, I guess I would miss it if I could remember when I’m teaching having the creativity and the boundless free association that only kids have because they’re not used to thinking the same thing over and over again, and they just make these amazing connections. And I can’t remember when my brain worked like that. Other than that you know it’s pretty sweet being an adult. The terrible thing about being a kid is that people tell you when you go to bed and who your friends are and what to eat, and everything is decided for you. So that’s my thing about Barrel of Monkeys, is I’m like listen, you don’t have any freedom because you’re eight, so that’s terrible. On this piece of paper though, you have complete freedom. So don’t ask me what you should write about, don’t copy the plot of a movie, because you don’t get to make any choices anyhow. So I’m giving you one totally free space, you should take advantage of it. And what they end up making of it . . . It’s not like kids say the darndest things, it’s like this is an epic tale, or a touching masterpiece . . .
What do you not know how to do that you wish you did?
I get so jealous of the songwriters in Barrel of Monkeys, like Curtis who picks up a guitar and just starts noodling away. I wish I could think in music.
If you were a police officer, what kind of police vehicle would you have on your daily beat? You know, there are police cars, motorcycles, horses, bicycles…
The horse is very tempting, because it’s awesome. But I would be a foot cop, because you’d get to talk to people.
If you had friends visiting you in Chicago and you wanted to impress them, what three things would you do?
I would take them on the architecture boat tour, take them out to various restaurants like Smoque or Publican, and then take them to backyard barbeques and That’s Weird Grandma, which of course is the greatest value you can get in the city.
Do you do any impressions?
Whenever there is a mom in a story, I like to imitate my mom. Like when we did a story about parents not being able to dance, and I did my mom and her Mick Jagger dance.
What is your favorite thing about being a Monkey?
My favorite moments of Barrel of Monkeys are always teaching, they’re always in the classroom and seeing the spark of excitement among the kids. Sometimes you’ll wander by a kid’s desk and he’s just giggling, cracking himself up. That’s amazing.
Why do you hope for Barrel of Monkeys?
I hope our stories are the first ones the kids write, and that they keep doing it. One of my greatest moments with the Monkeys is once when we returned to a school and a former student, two years after we taught him, came up and said, “Look at my journal.” And it was full. The kid had written a hundred pages of short stories. That’s when you’re heart’s like: that happened, so this is all worth it.