By Brenda Torres
On June 12, the Logan Center for the Arts at University of Chicago, hosted a play, Celebration of Authors 2018. The production was by Barrel of Monkeys, an ensemble of actors-educators that teach creative writing and later adapt the student’s stories; and students as well act out their own stories.
According to Corinne Neal, Executive Director of Barrel of Monkeys, the company started in 1997 by two graduate students from Northwestern University. “They were best friends, one was more of a director and one was more passionate about education, but they both loved theater,” said Neal. Both of the founders participated in a theater company called Griffins Tale, from Northwestern University that works with students in Evanston, Illinois. Where students submitted their stories and they adapted them. When both founders graduated, they decided to start a similar company, but with a curriculum attached, where they were teaching creative writing in classrooms as their first step.
Barrel of Monkeys works with the grades two to five. One of the biggest central focuses of Barrel of Monkeys is starting in the classrooms. “Going into classrooms and teaching creative writing and we use theater as tool to do that because that way it is really fun, it’s interactive, they get to see their stories brought to life,” is one of their paramount focuses said Neal.
Celebration of Authors 2018, was a selection of stories from classrooms the actors-educators taught throughout the school year. Students and their families from a variety of Chicagoland schools were present to see the performance at the Logan Center.
While families arrived, they were greeted with the stories of student authors. The stories were printed on posters and taped to the windows of the lobby. Many students posed by their stories while their families took pictures of them with their work. The event was catered towards the children with juice boxes and cookies.
When the performance started all performers began to sing, “It’s time to start the show. . . our hands are high, our feet are low and this how we start the show!” It was mixture of singing, clapping, and stomping, and then the stories began.
When the stories were performed, an actor-educator announced who the story and its student author and the school the student attended. Each story was performed in a unique way, and some stories were performed in bilingual, English and Spanish and mostly all had a musical component to them. For example, the first story performed was El Jugo y la Hormiga, The Juice and the Ants by Alexander from Walsh Elementary. The story was about a boys juice that was left on the table soon was filled with ants, and then he drank it without knowing it had ants. For this performance, the actors-educators, did a Reggaeton style (Spanish Rap), they rapped “Pica pica pica hormigita,” which in English is, “Bite bite bite little ant.” The performers came out of the aisles dressed in different types red accessories and clothing, to resemble an ant that bites.
“It was really nice because I felt like I got the chance the see my art, and see how it would look like in real life, see how I can explore it even more,” said Lashar, a student from Herzl School of Excellence, who story was performed, Superman and his Baby. The story was about Superman being an expecting father, buying shoes from a shoes salesman, Lex Luthor, who was also an expecting father.
The final story that was performed, was the Sad Goodbye, by Janelle, from Peirce International School. The story was about how when actor-educators have to leave the schools because the program has come to an end for the school year. Barrel of Monkeys performed this story in order to conclude the night.