Today we’re gonna chat with Sharon Bilman.
She’s the founder of Monkey Bar Collective — an organization with the goal of bringing together talented people to create games and media for kids.
Sharon is the face behind much of the Pinna content you and your kids listen to every day. She’s worked on productions like ExtraBLURT, ExtraBLURT Jr., Story Time with Benny and Buddy, A to Z Mysteries: Clue Club, Discover the Forest, and SO many more.
Let’s take a peek behind the scenes and read more about Sharon’s contributions to Pinna.
Keep reading for more.
Interview With Sharon Bilman — Founder of Monkey Bar Collective
1. Hi there! To start, why don't you tell us a bit about yourself, how you came to work with Pinna, and what projects you’ve been a part of?
Hi, I’m Sharon Bilman. I’m the founder of Monkey Bar Collective. The company’s goal is to bring together tremendously talented people to create games and media for kids.
I got connected to Pinna in its early days. I was at an industry event and I dared myself to talk to a new person during lunch. That person turned out to be from Pinna. She asked if I had any ideas for a children’s audio show, so my business partner and I put our heads together and came up with a few ideas. That led to the creation of the ExtraBLURT game show. It’s still one of my favorite shows.
Since then I’ve worked on quite a few shows. I’ve produced ExtraBLURT Jr. (bringing on new hosts and writing new games for ages 5-7), Story Time with Benny and Buddy, A to Z Mysteries: Clue Club, and Discover the Forest.
I’ve been a writer on Piper and the Dots, 5 for 5 Trivia, and the new interactive audiobooks like Celebrating Holidays, Action Sports, and The Unexplained.
You’ve been keeping me busy.
2. What led you to this career choice? Any advice for our readers who may be interested in pursuing this path?
My career path has had some twists and turns over the last thirty years. I started out as a graphic designer. Then, I was a programmer. After that, I became a game designer and writer (which I love doing!).
Digital media keeps changing, so the type of projects I work on keeps changing. When the opportunity came up to create audio productions, I took what I know about games and kids and applied that knowledge to this new medium.
My advice is to find a way to get started and let your path evolve. Opportunities to do what you love don’t always come from the most conventional places.
3. Growing up, what was your dream job? How does that compare to what you're doing now?
I wanted to be a teacher (because I wanted to make those fun bulletin boards in the classroom!), but I had no desire to actually teach.
I’ve always liked making stuff. That’s still what makes me happy today.
4. What (or who!) inspires you? We'd love to hear more about your creative process!
Kids are my biggest inspiration. For every show I work on, I pick a kid that I’m writing it for. I imagine how I would say things or explain things if I was talking directly to that person.
I also steal material from my family. Sometimes my kids get annoyed when they hear one of their jokes said on a show. My family is creative and funny — so it’s really a compliment.
And I think the real world is a fascinating place. I learn so much when I research a show. I have a hard time writing the fake facts and false answers for game shows because the true facts are so interesting. For example, a mantis shrimp can punch with the same speed as a gunshot. How can I make up something more amazing than that!?
5. Speaking of inspiration, who is your role model? Do you have a favorite children's author or illustrator whose work you'd love to emulate?
I don’t know if I’d call them role models, but there are lessons I’ve learned from other people’s work. Here are a couple.
- I admire how Mo Willems uses images and words together. He doesn’t overexplain with a mountain of words because the pictures are also telling the story. I try to do that with sound design and voices. I prefer letting the sound tell part of the story along with the dialog.
- I heard an interview with Jason Reynolds as part of The Story Seeds podcast that has stuck with me. He said “If I’m going to contribute something, I need to make sure that I can stand on what I made. I can’t shortcut it.” While I’m no Jason Reynolds, I feel similarly about my work. This is my contribution to a kid’s day. I don’t want to give kids a pretty good episode...I want them to hear the best show I can make every time.
6. Okay, let's have a little fun! If you could travel anywhere in the entire world, where would you go and why?
Japan is the first place that pops into my mind. I’ve never been there before, but I’ve always wanted to go. Plus, Nintendo Land just opened there, so there’s that.
7. Do you have any furry (or scaly!) friends keeping you company while you work? If so, feel free to share a picture too!
My dog Mason is my officemate. He’s the inspiration for Tiny in “The Pets We Get” episode of ExtraBLURT. Mason particularly enjoyed hearing the Discover the Forest episodes. The woods are his favorite place.
8. Let's talk food! If you could only eat one thing every single day for the rest of your life, what would it be? Why?
First, if you tried to enforce that rule I’d take you to Food Court. I think the jury would totally rule in my favor. But until my case is heard, I’d pick sandwiches.
You can put almost anything between bread and call it a sandwich. So I’d still have a big range of flavors. Bacon, egg, and cheese bagels for breakfast. Falafels for lunch. Eggplant parm for dinner. I could live like that for a while.
9. What do you enjoy listening to — music, podcasts, audiobooks? Can we get a sneak peek at your playlist? ;)
On my Pinna playlist...Hero Hotel is currently highly anticipated every Thursday. My favorite not-on-Pinna podcasts are 99% Invisible and Ask Me Another.
When I need a boost, I play pop songs on repeat. I’ve totally annoyed everyone around me with too much Justin Timberlake, Lizzo, and Hamilton.
10. Wrapping up, can you share where our readers can follow you to keep up with your work?
@MonkeyBarGames on Facebook and Instagram.
There you have it, an exclusive Q&A with Sharon Bilman, the digital content creator behind many of the Pinna Originals you’ve come to know and love.
If you’d like to keep up with her work, check out her website or find her on social media @MonkeyBarGames.
We’re all ears!