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‘That’s Weird, Grandma,’ A Variety Show Written By School Kids, Celebrates 20 Years Of Performances

Catch a free livestream Thursday of the show, which features actors performing plays written by Chicago Public Schools students.

PlayMakers Laboratory
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ANDERSONVILLE — For the past two decades, scores of celebrated Chicago stage actors have spent their Mondays putting on plays written by children.

To celebrate that milestone, PlayMakers Laboratory will host a free digital special of its flagship show, “That’s Weird, Grandma,” at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. The two-hour show will be streamed from PlayMakers Laboratory’s Facebook page.

PlayMakers Laboratory started in 1997 with the name Barrel of Monkeys, a nonprofit organization dedicated to arts education. Its name was changed in 2019. Founders Erica Halverson and Halena Kays began by teaching kids creative writing and artistic expression, and the program was offered at 60 Chicago public schools.

Then they decided to find professional actors to adapt the plays for the stage and perform them for the kids, said artistic director Brandon Cloyd.

The nonprofit linked up with The Neo Futurists and used the company’s Andersonville theater to perform a variety show based on the kids’ work. “That’s Weird, Grandma” has run on Mondays for 20 years.

“It’s about saying to young people, ‘Your ideas are worthwhile and we’re going to perform your show,'” Cloyd said. “We didn’t know it was going to be a long-running show. It just kept going.”

The shows not only seek to validate the children’s work but to also inform adults that kids’ thoughts and expressions should be taken seriously, Cloyd said.

The performances run the gamut from poignant to outlandish. In one memorable production, the actors adapted a young girl’s letter to singer Alicia Keys by turning it into a song styled after Keys. A more lighthearted performance included actors turning a kid’s blockbuster-style story of goliaths fighting into a dance battle featuring popular routines from social media app TikTok.

The kids “write really funny moments,” Cloyd said. “We get to be creative and fill in the blanks.”

The 20th anniversary production will include digital stories from previous performances that were audience favorites, Cloyd said. Actors from throughout the show’s run have come back to perform.

An in-person viewing party will also start 5:30 p.m. Thursday at The Annoyance Theater, 851 W. Balmoral Ave. Proof of vaccination is required. You can register here.

“That’s Weird, Grandma” pivoted online during the pandemic, with the show streamed via the site Patreon. The children’s arts programs have also been made digital, but some performances have been staged in outside venues like parks, Cloyd said.

“I’m proud that, not only have we made it to 20 years, we survived a pandemic,” he said.

For more information on the event or to donate to PlayMakers Laboratory, click here.

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