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Barrel of Monkeys gets new ‘Weird Grandma’

Andy White from Lookingglass Theatre Company “Chicago’s Weird Grandma.”

Andy White from Lookingglass Theatre Company in “Chicago’s Weird, Grandma.”

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Barrel of Monkeys’
‘Chicago’s Weird,

♦ 8 p.m. Mondays, Oct. 8-Dec. 17

♦ Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland

♦Tickets, $6-$12

♦ (312) 409-1954;

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Updated: November 6, 2012 6:14AM

The Barrel of Monkeys’ long-running “That’s Weird, Grandma,” based on the writings of Chicago youngsters, gets an update when BOM opens its 15th season Oct. 8 with “Chicago’s Weird, Grandma.” While the new show will follow BOM’s tried-and-true format, the troupe tapped into its connections with other Chicago theaters to collaborate this season.

“We have a lot of alliances with the theater community because so many of our members were in many other theater companies,” said artistic director Molly Brennan. “And I thought it might be fun to let them in on the action a little bit — see how we work and share their specific artistic voices with our audience.”

And so each Monday through Dec. 17, audiences will be treated to other ensembles’ interpretations of the creative writings of local third- through fifth-graders. Guest artists will be given three original stories from BOM’s in-school residencies from which to choose and create one three-minute sketch. On tap: Steppenwolf Theater Company and House Theatre of Chicago, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Manual Cinema, The Hypocrites, Griffin’s Tale and Jyldo, Noah Ginex Puppet Company, BONEdanse, Dean Evans, Factory Theater, Sideshow Theatre and the Neo-Futurists.

An arts education ensemble that’s been around since 1997, BOM does creative writing residencies in Chicago Public Schools and runs an after-school creative writing/performance program at Loyola Park Field House in Rogers Park. The troupe takes students’ writings and turns them into skits, performing a show for the schools at the end of each residency. Some of the stories from each residency make it into the Monday night performances at the Neo-Futurarium.

“It’s always essential that we do not deviate from the story that the child has written, so we don’t tell a different story,” Brennan said. “Rather, we use our skills and our experiences as artists to tell the story in the best possible way that we can.”

As in the past, Monday night audiences will be able to change the makeup of the following week’s show by voting two skits off the lineup. The opening of “Chicago’s Weird, Grandma” will include “The First Kid Who Played in the NFL,” about a little boy drafted by the Bears; “ISAT Werewolf Day,” in which test-taking kids turn into werewolves; and “Too Much Pressure,” a song in which Batman laments his career choice.

“The title of ‘Chicago’s Weird, Grandma’ comes from the fact that we have invited the Chicago community to come and jam with us,” Brennan added.

Brennan believes programs like BOM’s help build students’ confidence, especially when their stories make it to a professional stage.

“One of the big objectives of our school programming is building self-esteem in kids,” she said. “Letting them know that ‘Hey, you have great ideas and the stories you want to tell are ones that the world should hear.’ . . . That’s where the kids benefit. I think that the adult artists benefit by being able to work with material that is really fun and unusual and not the kind of regular stuff that most actors are working with.”


♦ The National Museum of Mexican Art honors Chicago’s former first lady with Maggie Daley: A Tribute by Chicago’s Youth, running through Feb. 17 at 1852 W. 19th St. The exhibit showcases works by young artists from the museum’s Yollocalli Arts Reach and students from After School Matters. Admission is free. Call (312) 738-1503 or visit

Emerald City Theatre presents Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical Oct. 6-Jan. 6 at the Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln. Aimed at kids 3 to 6, the show is about a girl and her beloved stuffed bunny. Tickets are $10 to $27. Call (773) 935-6100 or visit or

♦ March with the Band kicks off Northwestern University’s Kids Fare series at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 6 at the Welsh-Ryan Arena, 2705 Ashland in Evanston. The concert targets kids 3 to 8 years old and focuses on the drumline, the flag corps and the Wildcat Marching Band. Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for children. Call (847) 467-4000 or visit

♦ Naperville’s Summer Place Theatre presents Ghost Stories in the Park . . . in the Dark Oct. 5-7 and 12-14 at the Riverwalk Grand Pavilion, just west of Centennial Beach, Jackson and West. Early shows are recommended for kids 5 and older; late shows are for kids 12 and older. Tickets are $7 and include cookies and hot cider. Call (630) 848-5000 or visit

Jennifer Burklow is a local free-lance writer.

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