Those of you who know me are probably aware that I spend a lot of time performing with Barrel Of Monkeys. I could happily tell you why I think they’re important, but I’m going to let 15-year-old Sebby D, who attended our Loyola Park After School Program tell you in his own words:

When I was 7 years old my grandmother came to Chicago for a visit, and we looked for something to entertain us with. We came across a show titled “That’s Weird Grandma”. We decided to see it out of love for the name. The show made us laugh until we cried from the very beginning to the end of the performance. The performers called themselves “Barrel of Monkeys” and we were intrigued to find out more about the program. I was signed up as soon as we heard that Barrel of Monkeys had a creative writing/acting class for kids.

I went into the first class nervous not knowing what to expect. The Barrel of Monkeys instructors were nice and funny and they made me laugh right away. My fears went away and I had the opportunity to act and be as silly or weird as I had wanted. The teachers were very talented and welcoming to me which made me felt like I belonged there. I was so sad that the hour and a half was over and I couldn’t wait to go back the next week.

The teachers had us write in journals near the end of the class. They said that I was supposed to write a story and be as creative as I wanted. I had originally thought that it would be a boring routine journal entry, and that the idea of a class that wasn’t a little boring seemed to good to be true. I was wrong. I was able to allow my story to run off in any direction it decided to go, which is a concept that I had never heard before. I was confident in doing this because one of the rules they had that they had repeated over and over is that every idea is a good idea.

Barrel of Monkeys has helped me throughout grade school. I was able to speak in front of my class with confidence, and throughout my years in school there were a total of 3 plays for my class to be in. I was given the largest speaking role in all three of them and I had the best time making all my roles have an interesting personality, voice and look. It was the training that Barrel of Monkeys used that gave me the advantage over my classmates and the resources that I needed to nail the parts that were given to me. They taught me to love learning my lines, and they gave me the confidence to have the little character quirks that I used to spice up my performance.

I am nearly fifteen years old now and have reached the maximum age to be a Barrel of Monkeys student. This past year they gave me the privilege of returning as an assistant teacher for the youngest kids in the program. It helped me to learn how to teach and be a role model around little kids. But what most impressed me was seeing how dedicated the Barrel of Monkeys staff is to the students. They seem to give endlessly and never ask for anything in return. Being a part of that is something that will guide me for the rest of my life.

One of the greatest things that Barrel of Monkeys does for its students, is perform the stories that the kids have written in front of an audience. Every year Barrel of Monkeys has a celebration of authors where they invite all the students of the program to come and see the teachers perform a few of the stories that the kids have written. One year they picked one of my stories for the celebration show, and I was extremely excited to see what they were going to do with my story. When my story was being performed, the actors were being so dramatic and silly, my story truly came to life and everyone was laughing the entire time. After the performance was over and the actors came out they all congratulated me on a great story and they told me to continue writing.

Now that we have been in the program for a while, my two sisters had joined in too. All the teachers would say hi to us whenever they saw us and made sure that we knew that they loved having all three of us kids in their program. My sisters and I all loved coming to the class every week and laughing and writing/acting our hearts out. Any kid would be lucky to have the opportunity to work with these amazing people.