Barrel of Monkeys
Now in their 20th Season, Barrel of Monkeys is an ensemble of actors/educators who invite children to create art through their residency programming in Chicago Public Schools, which is made up of three main components – in-school residences, after-school program, and public performances. Barrel of Monkeys empowers the kids to not only gain ownership over their own creativity, but to share their art with the community. The ending result is something inspiring, and THAT’S WEIRD GRANDMA was certainly a night to remember.
That’s Weird Grandma
Directed by Barrel of Monkeys Artistic Director Joseph Schupbach, THAT’S WEIRD GRANDMA, is a one-hour long rock concert. Comprised of original music from these elementary school students, the topics range from conjuring bunnies from the toilet in “Bunny Madness” by a student from Cleveland Elementary School to a young boy who just wants meatloaf in “Wanting Meatloaf” by a group of students at Fayome M. Dixon Elementary School.
Through the aid of the teaching artists, these kids explore a form of creative storytelling that is honest, and both embraces and pokes fun at typical “children’s entertainment.” The ending result was a blast to watch unfold – while the lyrics are youthful, they are hilarious, and I found myself laughing from the moment the first song began.
One performance that particularly speaks to these theme is “Not So Much Pressure,” written by a student at Morton School of Exellence. Played with excellent comedic timing by Nick Hart, the story explores Batman’s inner crisis about his role as a superhero, wondering if he should just quit. The song manages to capture the child-like innocence of a superhero while at the same time raising some mature topics about emotional distress, and truly trying to find one’s place in this world.
While this was a rock concert, the actors would also act out the songs as if they were scenes, which pushed the performance over the top.
The production utilized minimal props and costumes that closely resembled those that might be found in a children’s make-believe game. Many of the props looked to be handmade, much like a child’s art project, and the costumes were comprised of smaller items such as a ballet tutu or cape.
Part of the excitement of children’s make-believe games is the innocence, and the idea that anything can happen. The youthful elements of the production acted as a reminder that all of the songs were created by and for these kids. Their voices started in the lyrics and found their way throughout the overall aesthetic – which was an absolute joy to see.
The production would be nothing without the ensemble of performers – Nick Hart, Barry Irvin, Jen Johnson, Mari Maroquinn, Spencer Meeks, Krista Mickelson, Lee Peters, Geoff Rice, Jon Schneidman, Joseph Schupbach, Kelan Smith, Kate Staiger, Gwen Tulin, and Rachel Wilson.
The performers all played off each other beautifully, and each soloist showcased both musical talent, as well as the youthful energy required to bring these students’ voices to life.
THAT’S WEIRD GRANDMA was a joy from start to finish. The night was full of fun and laughter, and I know this is one group I would encourage anyone to keep on their radar.
Through March 27, 2017
Sundays at 2:00pm
Mondays at 8:00pm
Run Time: 1 hour, no intermission
5153 N. Ashland Avenue
Tickets can be purchased through online, or by calling 773-506-7140.
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.