HOTA, Home of the Arts recently welcomed acclaimed Canadian performance art company Mammalian Diving Reflex, and their Artistic Director Darren O’Donnell, as International Artists in Residence.
Darren O’Donnell’s work is about creating playful, provocative, social-specific participatory performances with non-actors of all ages and demographics. Designed to bring people together in new, unusual and sometimes uncomfortable ways – he calls it social acupuncture.
Social acupuncture is the judicious application of provocation and challenge to stimulate a ridged and inflexible system.
Dissatisfied with the limits of conventional theatre – where people sit quietly in the dark watching but not interacting with the performance, he’s all about using unexpected ways of getting people connecting, talking, thinking and feeling.
Darren told us a little about the philosophy behind his work, and what you can expect to see.
‘The show’s themselves aren’t necessarily representational. We’re not doing a show about children’s rights with Haircuts by Children. We’re actually, for that moment, making it real and giving children more rights and decision-making power than they would usually have.’
‘And in All the Sex we’re working to get people to open up about their lives, we’re making them comfortable, so they reveal things that they normally wouldn’t’ he said.
If the thought of hearing a bunch of old people talking about their sex lives doesn’t sound particularly enjoyable, you might need to think again.
‘The performance is about so much more than just sex,’ said Darren.
‘Honestly, the show is about as edgy as dinner theatre as far as I’m concerned. It’s charming – these people are your family, your colleagues, your peers.’
Darren believes that when people encounter each other in new and different ways you can reach across divides – generational divides and divides around the impropriety of talking about sexuality, especially with older people.
‘One thing everyone has in common is that, once you live past 65, everybody will have suffered in some way. You will have had your heart broken, people will have died on you, you will have been stricken with disease. Nobody gets a free pass.
‘Hearing the stories make you realise that you’re not alone in your trials and tribulations’ he said.
The team meet with the cast members individually over a month and then take the hours and hours of interviews and distil them into a 90-minute show. They then create an environment on stage that’s part show, part conversation where you can choose to join in (or not, there’s no pressure)
‘We’ve had a good reaction from the audience, everywhere but Slovenia, they were very shy.’
You might be surprised to find there’s a lot of laughter in the show as the six cast members go through every year of their lives, warts and all. It’s heart-warming and a joyous experience – and the conversation covers both good and bad experiences with a raw honesty.
Even when the topics stray into darker territory the cast don’t shy away from reality.
‘We find, due to the distance of time, the performers are often able to laugh at the things that they’ve suffered. When they prepare to perform I remind them – you’re not actually there, you have survived and therefore this is a moment to celebrate that you survived. And you’re ok and you’re here and you can laugh about it and tell the story. So even the difficult things are funny in some ways. It’s funny that we survive all these things that we go through and that we go on. We’re still here’ said Darren.
The cast members range in age from 62-77 and come from a diverse range of backgrounds and differing sexualities.
‘As a writer, you get a real snapshot of the city when you’re interviewing the cast members. In Slovenia everyone was having sex in the spas, here a lot of people seem to be having sex on the beach for some reason’ he said.
The eclectic cast includes:
Deirdre (76) – Jazz junkie, hedonist-in-training, incurable romantic, chaser of challenges. This fiendish Scrabble player has a wealth of knowledge ranging from bamboo to body paint.
Rivi (77) – Artist, erotic emailer, dancer & Astro traveller. Travelling to another man’s bed without leaving her own, Rivi believes in past lives and making the most of this one!
Valerie (69) – Holds a masters in ageing and sex, dancer, cruise convert and past naturist. Valerie has had a man jump off a ship and rush into her arms begging her to stay.
John (70) – Guitarist, Surfer, Retired Roadie, John Lennon look alike. Music and the sea have taken John around the world tasting everything and everyone it has to offer.
Dee (69) – Adventurist, world traveller, first female cabbie in Australia and one tough cookie. Dee has some stories about fish & chips and jumping trains that will make you giggle and gasp.
Barry (62) – Father of three, owner of Love Street Recording Studios, entrepreneur, car upholstery trimmer and party animal. Barry grew up around Sydney’s Maroubra Beach and definitely got down and dirty in the sand.
You can catch the incredible, heart-warming All the Sex I’ve Ever Had (with a definite Gold Coast flavour) at HOTA, Home of the Arts Wed 3- Fri 5 Oct.
Mammalian Diving Reflex are also particularly interested in children’s rights and often work with children in innovative and unexpected ways. They like to mess with social expectations and protocol, giving power to children and teaching adults how to deal with it.
Darren’s latest book, Haircuts by Children and Other Evidence for a New Social Contract, is an innovative proposal for the radical inclusion of children. Darren believes that working with kids in the cultural industries can be a pilot for a vision of a very different role for young people in the world — one that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child considers a ‘new social contract.’
‘Children are really, really great material because there are so many rules about what they are allowed to do, what they are allowed to say, what they are allowed to see and about how old you need to be to experience certain things. Children are the last definable demographic to whom it’s still legal to discriminate – we can say you’re not allowed in this place – so they provide really interesting material as they push so many boundaries just from their presence alone’ said Darren.
Darren likes to take children into situations where they wouldn’t normally stray – one of his projects saw him take a group of 10 years olds to every show at a performing arts festival – challenging the venues, performers and other audience members to re-evaluate their experience through the eyes of a child.
In Haircuts by Children, which has been recreated in 28 cities in nine countries, a group of children are giving a crash course in hairdressing and styling over a week of workshops, along with discussions about children’s rights. They then set up and run a salon – making all the decisions and receiving a wage.
It’s an incredibly interesting experiment in trust as the children hesitantly accept their power over adult’s vanity, while the adults bravely lower their heads to be shorn. (For the not-so-brave you can always opt for a colour or style instead)
You can make an appointment for a haircut (or style) here or just come along and speak to the salon receptionist who will be happy to book you in.
Haircuts by Children are available at HOTA, Home of the Arts on Sat 29 & Sun 30 Sept.
Mammalian Diving Reflex are the latest International Artists in residence at HOTA, Home of the Arts. Describing themselves as ‘curious nerds sending little shocks into the system to see what happens’ their work has been seen in more than 80 cities around the world. You can read more about the Toronto based company here.