WAXAHACHIE — The mission is in its name, the proof is in the participation and the excitement is apparent in the Moon Monkeys.
No, it is not the plot of a soon-to-be-released sci-fi film, nor are the Moon Monkeys a group of extraterrestrials. They are, though, a trio of uber-talented junior high students, experienced beyond their years in the theatrical form of improv and masters of Destination Imagination.
Meet seventh graders Turner Mullican, Brisa White and Logan Jones — the Moon Monkeys of Finley Junior High School.
Turner and Brisa have competed in various Destination Imagination contests since the third grade, while Logan took a chance on the gig and added his talent to the team for the first time this year because “it sounded fun.”
According to its mission statement, Destination Imagination (DI) looks to “develop opportunities that inspire the global community of learners to utilize diverse approaches in applying 21st-century skills and creativity.” The organization, which the history on its websites states was first incorporated in 1982 before changing its name to DI in 1999, helps students hone their creative process by utilizing creative and critical thinking, team building, problem-solving, risk-taking, project management, perseverance, and self-confidence.
From building robots or contraptions to acting out random scenes utilizing props from a box, DI has made its mission to “be the global leader in teaching the creative process from imagination to innovation.”
This year, the Moon Monkeys competed in the improvisational challenge known as “3-peat.” The team challenge is one of eight listed on the DI website. Other challenges include Rising Stars for Early Learners, service learning, fine arts, engineering, scientific, technical, and instant, with the latter serving as a potential challenge for a team of any category on the day of the tournament. According to a breakdown of tournament scoring found on the DI website, the instant challenge comprises 25 percent of the team score with the central or team-entered challenge counting for 60 percent and team choice elements making up the last 15 percent.
“They can solve the challenge on their own, and that is the whole point, but we as team managers can resource them,” said Karina White, a team sponsor alongside FJHS drama director Charity Mullican. “So, when they presented us with an [instant] challenge that they needed help with then we sought out people like Ms. [Mary] Volbrecht because she is an expert and an expert can teach them things that they didn’t already know.”
Using the engineering expertise of Volbrecht, who is a Finley Junior High CATE teacher, to learn the ins-and-outs of controllers and extenders, along with improv pointers from WHS drama instructor Ryan Mullican, the trio was then able to practice the different possible scenarios and characters to prepare for the competition adequately. From there, the students all agreed that learning by doing and reassessing after each performance was key.
“We had some high schoolers from Global High who helped us build certain things and then we had then perform an instant challenge and watched them,” Logan explained. “We have just been doing that and practicing instant challenges from either the book or that our team managers have come up with. We have kind of graded ourselves to see what we did best and worst at, and we just went from there.”
Armed with robust personalities and experience to boot, the Moon Monkeys placed first out of approximately 20 teams in the Greater Forth Worth Regional held Feb. 25 at Red Oak High School and advanced to the “Affiliate” or state tournament.
During the 3-Peat competition, the three students explained that they must create three improv skits using the same story prompt and are required to choose a different genre for each skit. For example, Turner said the group is at its best when acting under the silent, gangster, artist, or mystery genres.
“Acting and just coming up with the random skits is the best part,” Brisa said. “It has helped a lot with me in theatre, alone.”
While he nodded in agreement, Turner added he also wished it were “just an acting competition without the lame props or an instant challenge.”
Inside the prop box, the Monkeys carried items that range from aviator sunglasses to a “Bob Ross” wig and even an empty water bottle from the recycle bin (don’t worry, it was discarded by one of their mothers). The 13-inch-by-13-inch box taken to the state competition was loaned out by the DI team from Howard Junior High and served as a significant upgrade to the original 12-inch-by-10-inch box used by the Moon Monkeys.
“With those (props), we can help the judges know what our stock character is,” said Logan, who noted the contents of the box could not cost the team more than $50. He then pointed out the team’s most expensive item is a $7 “Pink Panther” music box that they ordered on Amazon Prime to help with the silent film category. “One of us will hold it and play it because we cannot talk.”
“That puts a limit on them, too, so they don’t go out and spend a fortune, and it evens the playing field for all of the teams across the state,” White said. “It also challenges them not just to bring anything they want. They are confined to the 13-by-13 box, and they have to be very resourceful and think hard about what they are going to put into the box.”
Logan added the box of props is “fun to use because there are a lot of different things inside of it that you can use for almost any character.”
“But it’s a box of limits,” interjected Mullican, which prompted laughter from the group.
At the Affiliate Tournament, held Saturday, April 8 in Lubbock, the Moon Monkeys needed to place in the top third of the 22-team field to secure a trip to the 2017 DI Global Finals in Nashville Tennessee. However, after a fantastic year, the Moon Monkeys wrapped up the 3-peat season with an eighth place finish — one spot shy of a trip to “Music City.”
“We are just so proud of the Moon Monkeys for what they have accomplished this year,” said Finley Junior High Principal Adan Casas before the team left for the state tournament. “We are always proud of our Finley students, but we are especially proud of these three.”
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith