If you’re a parent, aunt or uncle, grandparent, teacher or have just been in the same vicinity as a young human, you know that kids say, do and write the darnedest things, right? Right. Barrel of Monkeys, a non-profit that provides arts education programs to students in Chicago, took note of this fact and is using it to their advantage . . . and your delight. Read on to hear about these creative geniuses and how you (and your kids) can get involved.

What is Barrel of Monkeys?
Working from the Loyola Park Field House (1230 W. Greenleaf Ave.) in the Rogers Park neighborhood, Barrel of Monkeys’ mission is to provide programs to students ages 7-13 that build confidence in self-expression, enthusiasm for creative writing and performing, and gives kids an outlet to celebrate the power of their imaginations. Their vision for what they’re after is pretty simple: “A radically kind Chicago that champions children’s ideas”. What’s not to love about that?

More about the programs.
They run 9-week programs tailored to the strengths and preferences of the participants for kids ages 7-9, 9-11 and 11-13 in the fall, winter and spring. The sessions are led by 2 trained actor-educators and include games, group story writing, student performances and creative writing time. Students have historically been given the opportunity to dabble in many different writing forms including radio plays, acrostic poems, haikus, creative nonfiction, commercial jingles, monologues, science fiction and newspaper reporting. Students also explore different acting and performance techniques and learn the value of working together as a supportive ensemble. A skill that will come in handy when you’re looking for a liittle help with the chores.

The fall and winter programs culminate with a performance by the BOM ensemble while the spring session gives the 11-13 age group the unique opportunity to perform alongside Barrel of Monkey actors. All performances are inspired by the stories, poems and plays written by the students in the program. Material born from the work of the students is used in the That’s Weird Grandma variety show for all to enjoy.

Along with the classes offered at the Loyola Park Field House, Barrel of Monkeys also offers Chicago Public Schools 6-week in-school training programs for students in grades 3-5.

Wait, go back . . . That’s Weird Grandma? What’s that?
Besides being something you should definitely go see, it’s a variety show of short sketches and songs adapted from stories written by students in the Barrel of Monkey’s program.  Now in it’s 16th year, this weekly show runs the gamut from clever and funny to touching and poignant and includes live music, original song and dance numbers, more wigs and props than you can imagine and a rotating cast of talented actors who celebrate those beautiful young imaginations that provide endless material for their raucous performances.

How can you see a show?
That’s Weird Grandma: Attack of the Phantom of the BBQ, a collection of new adaptations from the 2016-17 school year, is playing at the Neo-Futurist Theater (5153 N. Ashland, Andersonville), August 7-August 28, Mondays at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12/adults and $6/ages 12 & under.

They are also hosting free performances of That’s Weird Grandma: Attack of the Phantom of the BBQ at Palmer Park (201 E. 11th St., South Side), August 11 at 7 p.m. and Churchill Park (1825 N. Damen Ave., Bucktown), August 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Can’t wait until August to see a show? You’re in luck!
For one night and one night only, Barrel of Monkeys is celebrating its 20th anniversary of arts education in Chicago Public Schools with a special event, Kids Write It: 20 Years of Intergenerational Storytelling. The evening will feature, as always, student-written stories from each of its 20 years performed by the company’s team of actor-educators. Kids Write It will take place Thursday, July 27, 7:30 p.m. at The Athenaeum Theatre Main Stage (2936 N. Southport Ave., Lakeview). Tickets are $25/adults and $12/ages 10 & under and proceeds will help fun future programming.

For more information on this incredible program, visit them at barrelofmonkeys.org.

Have you seen a Barrel of Monkeys’ show? We’d love to hear feedback in the comments below!

— Maria Chambers

Photos courtesy of Barrel of Monkeys