Mammalian Diving Reflex
Haircuts by Children
27 June – 18 July 2009
Curated by Theo Sims
Would you trust a 9-year old to give you a haircut?
8-9 year-olds will be offering the public free haircuts at a local salon and in a gallery. Over a week, a team of local children will participate in a series of training workshops with local professional stylists and then offer free haircuts to members of the public.
The Haircuts by Children project invites the consideration of children as creative and competent individuals whose aesthetic choices can be trusted. The idea that kids should be allowed to cut out hair evokes the same leap of faith, courage and understanding required to grant children deeper citizenship rights. For many, it is actually less terrifying to contemplate allowing kids to vote!
Haircuts by Children is a whimsical performance which tests our willingness to trust the younger generation and creates a unique opportunity for different social groups to interact in an unexpected way.
Haircuts by Children has featured at the Dublin Fringe Festival 2007, the 2007 TBA Festival in Portland, Oregon, the Fierce Festival in Brighton 2007, in Los Angeles and as part of the Milk International Children’s Festival for the Arts in Toronto.
HOW IT WORKS
Over a five-day period we will prepare a group of 8-9 year olds with the skills and confidence to offer free haircuts to the public. Following a week of workshops in art, politics and hairstyling, in Derry we set up shop in a local salon for 4 hours of haircutting.
There will be two days of haircutting, one in Breidges Barbershop on Strand Road, one in the Context Gallery, located in the Playhouse on Artillery Street.
On the haircutting days Context Gallery will take bookings from the public. The children are paid by the hour for the cuts they perform.
All of the children get an opportunity to cut hair, manning a drinks stall on the pavement outside the salon and gallery when they are not cutting.
The kids run the stall (we will provide all supplies) and all profits go directly to the group to put towards a project of their choosing. In Toronto, the group raised almost $500 over 5 days for Free The Children, an anti child-labour organisation.
A follow-up/evaluation session concludes the project. This is a workshop about the children’s experience and their relationship to any media coverage of the event.
Context Gallery has purchased the entire contents of a downtown salon and will transform the gallery into a hair salon for a month. Complete with six mirrors and chairs, sinks, wall mounted hairdryers, waiting chairs and reception desk, the gallery/salon will contain artworks from the children involved, documentation and videos of the haircutting performances and will even have salon music chosen by the children. The exhibition will open with the weekend performances (27th/28th June) and will stay up till 18th July 2009.
MAMMALIAN DIVING REFLEX
Mandate and Mission
Founded in 1993, Mammalian Diving Reflex is dedicated to: creating theatre rich in content, that is intellectually challenging and engaged with language, ideas and information; creating theatre rich in style, overtly embracing myriad theatrical conventions; creating theatre which openly acknowledges the audience, attempting to create dialogue around ideas; creating theatre that embraces the political dimension of life, recognizing the social responsibility of the arts.
We create work that dismantles the barriers between individuals while expanding the definition of theatre, fostering a dialogue between audience members, between the audience and the material, and between the performers and the audience. Our goal is to create an activist theatre able to meld polemic with artistic rigour, creating work that is meticulous and uncompromising both in its study and its manipulation of the conventions and tools of theatre, thorough in its examination of political and social ontologies, all the while maintaining a total commitment to easy accessibility and entertainment.
Since 2003, Mammalian Diving Reflex has been creating work in our Social Acupuncture wing that induces performative encounters outside the theatre, often in public places and always involving a cross-section of people as participants. And by “performative”, we mean acts that actually manifest our chosen themes rather than simply representing them. Norman Armour, writing in the introduction to the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, nicely describes what we do:
For several years, Darren has been creating works that are on the cutting edge of contemporary performance. Some have been for the stage, others for unconventional venues; each has challenged commonly held assumptions of what is theatre, what is an audience, and each has posed a radically new set of relations between the two. From aesthetical, social and political standpoints, Darren has searched for the means to infuse his work with the very thing that is so much talked about today – the potential of the performing arts to affect transformation. The brilliance of his work is that it takes aim at individual experience, society and its institutional presumptions, artistic practices and the means of artistic production, among with the modes for its dissemination – all in one fell swoop.
For inspiration, we have turned to currents in the visual art world that have been variously called ‘social practice,’ ‘relational aesthetics,’ and “dialogical art.” These terms all describe artistic practices that use the social field as material, generating new relationships, atypical dynamics, creating work, events and performances that incorporate the participation of people who are not necessarily artists and who are participating in ways that extend beyond commonly understood notions of artistic collaboration.
At this point, our signature piece in this field is Haircuts by Children, which is exactly how it sounds: we work with groups of ten-year-olds, train them as stylists, rent salons and put them to work for ten dollars an hour. Anyone can book an appointment and get a haircut and many people do, with a waiting list always forming. The performativity can be seen clearly in this piece: rather than merely creating a work about giving children more power, we give them power, we perform the themes we’re addressing.
Our work can no longer only be understood as discreet projects with their attendant time spent in workshop and the subsequent two or three week run in a theatre or even as discreet events, individually produced with hard parameters. Instead we are creating a body of work that exists in multiple and complex combinations. The work is permeable, flexible, adaptable, easily transportable and at almost every moment we are taking our audience with us, inviting them to dinner, cutting their hair and interviewing them onstage. We view ourselves as a nexus for the constant production of artistically driven social encounters that bring people together in atypical ways and generate community and, hopefully, new ways of seeing and being. In this conception, the stage as a forum for sharing our work is one platform among many, no more or less important than the other locations and configurations. We believe that it is, in fact, the company that is our work of art.
MAMMALIAN DIVING REFLEX….?
Mammalian Diving Reflex is an award-winning contemporary, interdisciplinary theatre company that creates innovative and critically acclaimed performance, as well as wildly imaginative events like Haircuts by Children featuring 10-year-old hairstylists in salons around the city, and Ballroom Dancing, an all-ages dance party DJed by children in a gymnasium filled with 2,700 rubber balls. Over the past year we have presented our work around the world, gaining critical acclaim in Toronto, Calgary, Ottawa, Los Angeles, Dublin, Portland, New York, Lahore Pakistan, Mumbai India, Vancouver, and Bologna. We engage with community, make people think, and create theatre that embraces the political dimension of life, recognizing the social responsibility of the arts.
Mammalian Diving Reflex is one of the few theatre companies in the country engaging with currents in the visual arts world called “relational”. This work interacts directly with the community, creating relationships and involving rigorously framed participation. In our Social Acupuncture wing, we create events that occur beyond the walls of the theatre in the community itself, engaging in an aesthetic of civic engagement – the artistic use of the institutions of civil society, of community centres, schools, seniors’ centres, sports clubs, and the media. We have a proven track record of working innovatively with children, most notably with our internationally touring project Haircuts by Children, and Parkdale PS vs. Queen West’s The Children’s Choice Awards. 2008 represents Mammalian Diving Reflex’s further commitment to Parkdale Public School as its first Resident Art Company, and also acknowledges the school’s belief in and support of our endeavours.
Darren and Natalie are the creative team.
Darren O’Donnell is a writer, director, designer, performance artist and Artistic Director of Mammalian Diving Reflex. He has written 8 plays, published a novel, a volume of 4 plays, and 2 volumes of plays with accompanying essays. He was the 2000 winner of the Pauline McGibbon Award for directing, the 2000 Gabriel Award for broadcasting, and has been nominated for a number of Dora Awards for his writing, directing, and acting, winning for his design of White Mice. He has worked extensively as an artist in the community particularly most recently with Haircuts by Children and Ballroom Dancing with youth from Parkdale Public School, and The Walking Talking Creature with students from Parkdale Collegiate, Malvern Collegiate, Lakeshore Collegiate, Fairbank Middle School, A.N. Myer Collegiate and Marc Garneau Collegiate.
Natalie De Vito is Producer of Mammalian Diving Reflex, and an independent producer/curator and writer. Her curatorial interests are producing work that addresses social engagement by encouraging interaction between the artwork and the audience, as well as between audience members, and in often unconventional and public spaces. Natalie’s experience includes being Artistic Producer, spOtlight festival 2008 for the Ontario Arts Council; Acting Media and Visual Arts Officer at the Ontario Arts Council; Head of Development and Marketing at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery; and Co-Director of Mercer Union Centre for Contemporary Art. She has produced, curated or coordinated over 50 exhibitions, events, and performances, and has toured many internationally. Her writing has appeared most recently in Coach House Books uTOpia: State of the Arts, with “Mom, Dad, will you co-sign my mortgage? Creating a new home for Toronto’s small arts organizations.” A proposal to the City of Toronto, her essay positions the art community at the centre of, and as drivers of urban planning and redevelopment. It also envisions a future Toronto that would, among other things, offer city-guaranteed mortgages to small arts organizations and artists so they could own property (and thus gain economic power) in their gentrifying downtown neighbourhoods.