Barrel of Monkey's Presents: Chicago's Weird, Grandma

(left to right) Linsey Falls, Eunice Woods, Emjoy Gavino, Erick Deshaun Dorris, Laura McKenzie and Lindsey Dorcus in Barrel of Monkeys’ revue CHICAGO’S WEIRD, GRANDMA. Photo by Beth Bullock.

With the basis of their stories being children’s ideas coming to life the Barrel of Monkey’s partnered with Chicago’s Best Performing Arts Companies to present Chicago’s Weird, Grandma. The concept behind the stories and the joy it brings to the children authors watching the performances makes the experience worth it. Even though many of the stories are very child based, it is necessary to keep in mind that they are the masterpieces of children’s minds whose imagination is limitless. 

(left to right) Zoe Schwartz, Jason Sperling, Tom Malinowski and Michael Spatafora in Barrel of Monkeys’ revue CHICAGO’S WEIRD, GRANDMA. Photo by Beth Bullock.

Barrel of Monkeys is an arts education theatre focusing on under-served students enrolled in the Chicago Public School system between the third and fifth grades. Of these students 98% are African American and Latino and most of the students in attendance battle low literacy skills, anger and aggression management, low self-esteem and volatile living conditions. It is from these students that the stories used for the performance of That’s Weird Grandma are taken. This show takes stories from students written over a 13 year period while increasing awareness of their in-school and after-school programs as well as helping with funding for the programs. That’s Weird Grandma runs every Monday night in the Andersonville neighborhood in Chicago and this season will work with 15 other artistic groups or individuals to create Chicago’s Weird, Grandma. Each performance has up to 12 stories performed and one guest performer, on Monday October 28 they worked in conjunction with Manual cinema a visual arts group combining visual graphics and music to represent their chosen story.

(left to right) Eunice Woods, Emjoy Gavino and Laura McKenzie in Barrel of Monkeys’ revue CHICAGO’S WEIRD, GRANDMA. Photo by Beth Bullock.

The show on October 28 covered 12 stories with Manual Cinema’s additional adaptation of one of the children’s stories. The theatre, the Neo-Futurist Theatre in Andersonville, is a small rustic theatre which is very family friendly. Their motto for the night was “kids write it, we do it.” Each story lasted between 5-10 minutes with the show lasting for an hour. Two of the funniest stories adapted for the theatre included “Old Tommy and Brownie the Lost Cat” written by Camron F. from the Learn Campbell Academy. It had the audience cracking up with the child’s imagination. Similarly the “Telling Alien Jennifer about Valentines” was also entertaining with people laughing almost the whole way through, this one was written by Ashanti from the Willa Cather Super 7 Girls. The story with some of the some of the most creative ability and writing ability is called “The Magical Hat.” This story consisted of a dog who finds a hat, a magical hat that has the ability to grant wishes. He asks for three wishes, one of them being more wishes. The story touched the audience because it showed how a child’s mind works by adapting stories they may have previously heard and turning them into something an adult might never have thought of. The guest performer, Manual Cinema had a very different adaptation on stage. They used shadows, slides, an classical music as well as combining traditional slides to depict images onto a screen. They told the story by using the music combined with the shadows, writing and images on the screen. The take on the story was an interesting one that would be nice to see again. 

(left to right) Emjoy Gavino, Erick Deshaun Dorris, Laura McKenzie, Eunice Woods, Lindsey Dorcus, Rachel Wilson and Gwen Tulinin in Barrel of Monkeys’ revue CHICAGO’S WEIRD, GRANDMA. Photo by Beth Bullock.

Although this performance may not be one to go to without children the concept behind the performances and the aim of the Barrel of Monkeys and their work with children is amazing. The actors truly encompass children’s mindsets, transforming on stage to fit each character perfectly. This program is a great one and will hopefully get enough funding to continue for many more years.

(pictured) The cast of Barrel of Monkeys’ revue CHICAGO’S WEIRD, GRANDMA. Photo by Beth Bullock.

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