Luke Hatton is the Artistic Director of Barrel of Monkeys (BOM), a Chicago theater company that brings theatre to underserved school children, and brings the students’ theater to Chicago audiences. Unlike most theater companies, BOM’s educational mission is an integral part of its creative process.Since 1997, BOM has been sending its actor/teacher/facilitators into Chicago’s public schools to conduct creative writing residencies that culminate in a performance in which BOM’s trained actors perform the student’s writing on stage. Highlights from the residencies are featured in BOM’S weekly performance of That’s Weird, Grandma at the NeoFuturarium in Andersonville (5153 North Ashland). A good time is guaranteed for audiences of all ages! —CAR Theater Researcher John Carnwath
What motivates BOM’s work?
Basically, BOM’s mission is to empower young people to express their creative voices and learn to value the power of their own imaginations. We work to celebrate the kids' own creative and artistic potential. Our hope is that seeing their writing up on stage performed by professional actors gives the young writers a sense of validation. We work hard to honor the writing. We've found that doing so is also the key to creating quality theater.
How do the teaching artists at BOM juggle their own artistic work with their work for BOM and earning a living?
Everyone does this differently. I would say we have two groups of people. The first group are those who have full-time day jobs and do stuff with BOM as their primary creative outlet on evenings and weekends. These folks usually don’t teach with us, since their days are booked up. The second group are those who are pursuing acting/directing/music or dance careers and so will have periods where they’re heavily involved with BOM (both teaching and performing), but then go away for periods where they get involved with other shows etc. This group I would say does the most “juggling”; they’re probably poor, and have 3–4 part-time jobs/gigs, one of which is BOM. Often one of the other jobs for this crowd is teaching with another arts education program in Chicago.
What sort of backgrounds do the company members come from?
Company members’ backgrounds are as diverse as their jobs. Many have theater/dance or music backgrounds, but several do not and just came to BOM through a love of the work/organization.
Does working with BOM affect the company members' own artistic work?
Absolutely. Being a company member, you are constantly challenged to create new and bold characters and adaptations (in a short amount of rehearsal time). I think as one gains confidence in this process and their own choices, they are bound to thrive as artists. Our work makes you a better performer. I think it’s no coincidence that so many of our company members perform at all the “big” theaters in the city.
How does BOM think about its work with kids?
Our educational work is predicated on the notion that kids are ready to be creative, ready to express themselves, and just need to be given the right prompt, stage, or soapbox. So our central goal is to encourage writing and self-expression and then to validate the work through in-class sharing/performance and the adult actors’ performance of the work at the school. At the end of the performance, we also return the students’ BOM journals to them filled with positive and constructive comments about their writing. Each student gets their own BOM Certificate of Achievement with each teacher’s “autograph” as well.
Interviewed in Summer 2011.
Luke Hatton became Artistic Director of Barrel of Monkeys, a nonprofit arts education company, in 2008. His primary responsibility is to ensure that BOM's performance-based work is of the highest quality. He directs/oversees all school-based and public performances—as many as 40 per year. Luke has also performed with Steppenwolf, The Neo-Futurists, The Hypocrites, The Gift, Lifeline, Dog&Pony, and New York's Geva Theatre Center. He has directed acclaimed theatrical productions with Steep Theater and his own Phalanx Theater. As an arts educator, Luke has developed and taught curriculum with After School Matters and Adventure Stage Chicago. Luke attended the School at Steppenwolf in 2001 and has a BS in Theatre from Northwestern University.