Posted by Amanda Farrar on March 18, 2015
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.
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.