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updated: 10/25/2013 6:13 AM

For Glendale Heights native, life is a Barrel of Monkeys

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  • Glendale Heights native Tom Malinowski, in green, performs with Barrel of Monkeys in Chicago.

    Glendale Heights native Tom Malinowski, in green, performs with Barrel of Monkeys in Chicago.
    Courtesy of Maggie Fullilove-Nugent

By Joe Salvato

Except for some acting in high school, Tom Malinowski never gave the stage much thought.

Then, years ago, a co-worker at a public broadcasting company invited the Glendale Heights native to a show.

"She asked if I wanted to see her perform and I said 'OK, why not?'" Malinowski said.

She was with a theater ensemble called Barrel of Monkeys. And in October of 2000, Malinowski joined the Chicago company himself.

"I tried out 13 years ago, and it could have been the best thing I have done in my life," he said.

Barrel of Monkeys is a theater ensemble that works both on the stage and in the classroom. They adapt the stories of elementary school children to the stage, using only the students' work.

The troupe members, or "monkeys" as Malinowski calls them, begin by teaching a writer's workshop to Chicago public school students in grades three through six.

The students then keep a journal of their required six short stories throughout the course of the monkeys' stay.

Finally, the kids turn in their journals. A select few of the stories are chosen by the ensemble for their performance.

Then, the fun begins.

"Maybe about a dozen or so of us read the journals and rehearse for six days and perform for that class. It's amazing because all the authors are right then and there, watching their own work performed," he said.

Malinowski isn't just a part of the scholastic side of Barrel of Monkeys, he also works the theatrical side as well.

Barrel of Monkeys has a weekly show for the public. The current show, starting Monday, Oct. 28, is called "Chicago's Weird, Grandma."

"What we do Monday nights are stories that we performed previously," Malinowski explained. "We have 15 years worth of stories to choose from every week. As long as we find the story verbatim from the kid, then it's a go."

For now, Malinowski is content with performing solely through Barrel of Monkeys, and admits he doesn't attempt to act in other projects like many of the performers in the 68-member company do. Then again, he has plenty of other demands on his time. Malinowski is a consultant for the digital archives at CME Group and also a library intern at the American Planning Association.

"I just got my masters in library sciences, so I'm looking to be a full-time librarian," he said.

But he stays with the theater company for a most important reason.

To Malinowski, it's important to "show the audience that a kid's imagination is the most powerful thing on the planet. If we just help foster that, it gives kids so much confidence in their work and in the future."

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