No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Contact Inc

Thoughts: These are the People in your Neighbourhood

I first came across the work of Canadian performance company Mammalian Diving Reflex in 2010, when I walked into a Launceston hair salon to have my hair cut by an eleven-year-old boy. I was at Haircuts By Children, a work that sees primary-school aged children taught how to cut hair, and then gives them control over a salon for the day. They take bookings, sweep hair off the floor, and cut, colour, and even shave hair for a weekend. It’s slightly terrifying and mightily exhilarating. I’ve been excited by and following the company’s work ever since, and on Saturday I had the chance to see their work again.

With the Come Out Festival, Mammalian Diving Reflex has been working with students from Blair Athol North B-7 School on a tour of the shops in Kilburn for These are the People in Your Neighbourhood.

On arriving, we were each handed a small magazine sharing the title of the show, with articles and pictures about the people and places we were going to visit, all written by and drawn by the students. Along Prospect Road, we visited eight businesses, where each shop owner was interviewed by some of the kids and the floor was opened up to questions. There was fantastic generosity and good will from all of the people we visited: all excited to be sharing their lives with this community of students and the rest of the group that had come along for the journey. We were repeatedly invited to come back to the businesses, to say hello, to say “I saw you on These are the People in Your Neighbourhood.

The children all approached the presentation of the work with agency. Mammalian Diving Reflex created the artistic and physical frameworks for the performance to exist, but the performance itself feels to belong entirely to the children. While some may have looked to the ground while presenting, while some spoke softly even with a microphone, the show resolutely belonged to the children.

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Australian Theatre Forum: International Collaborations Skype Conversation

Getting My Haircut by Children at the Junction Regional Arts Conference

Our morning started with a Skype conversation between Lenine Bourke (Contact Inc) and Darren O’Donnell (Mammalian Diving Reflex ) on their international collaboration.

I first meet MDR at the Junction Regional Arts Conference in Launceston last year, where I attended haircuts by children.  It was an interesting experience.  I found the children who cut my hair rather timid, but they were probably feeding off my fear of hairdressers (it was the first time I’d been to a hairdresser since I was ten or so, and the first boy was so nervous he ended up asking someone else to do it).  The best part about the experience was the fantastic energy and crazy idea of being in a salon run by children: they took the bookings, they ran all the equipment, they wilfully whirred away at the electric razor – not on my head, but my friend Shaylee ended up with an undercut which, depending on who you asked, was a star, a map of Australia, or a road-killed cat.  One of the great things about the project, says Darren, is “adults and children who don’t know each other actually have a lot to say to each other,” and it was a really interesting experience getting to sit down and talk for forty minutes with children I didn’t know.

Mammalian Diving Reflex started as a theatre company, and then they moved into working with people, rather than performers.  Says Darren “We often work with non-artists as performers as participants.  We ask them to do what they do best.  We ask them to represent themselves and not be anything else, and we do that very theatrically.”

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