Mammalian Diving Reflex
Mammalian Diving Reflex was founded in Toronto in 1993, and between 1993-2003 primarily produced the stage-based performances of Artistic Director, Darren O’Donnell. In 2003, the company began to diversify its approach and generate work in a multitude of forms, focusing on creating “social acupuncture”: playful, provocative, site and social-specific participatory performances with non-actors of all ages and demographics, designed to bring people together in new and unusual ways. In 2006, Darren published his book, Social Acupuncture, which established a theoretical foundation for this new direction and solidified it as the company’s primary creative methodology. Propelled by the company’s touring hit, Haircuts by Children – a performance about trust, children’s rights, generosity and vanity, in which ten-year-olds give free haircuts to the public – Mammalian began to work with a wide array of collaborators, including international art festivals, seniors homes, city administrations, community centres, schools and other civil institutions. In 2011, Mammalian launched Young Mammals, the company’s youth training wing. Young Mammals’ mandate is to collaborate with young people to create artistic work for youth and adults, with a long-term vision toward youth capacity building and diversification of the arts industries. To date, Mammalian’s work has been presented in more than fifty cities around the world.
Why is Mammalian Diving Reflex appropriate to be the recipient of the Ellen Stewart Award?
The work of Mammalian Diving Reflex encompasses theatre, community and youth, with the notions of justice and equality at its core. Before starting to work artistically, Mammalian gets you to have a thorough look into the way your organization deals with other people, with youth, with art, and with communication. They send you their Mammalian Protocol for Collaborating with Children, asking for every member of the team to read it and act accordingly. Mammalian treats their young collaborators as right-holders, who are “not only entitled to receive protection but also have the right to participate in all matters affecting them” (Mammalian Protocol).
Millionen! Millionen! Millionen!, the most recent collaboration between Mammalian and the Ruhrtriennale International Festival of the Arts (premiere in September 2015), was presented by members of the festival’s official jury from 2012-14 (participants in Mammalian’s The Children’s Choice Awards) and young refugees and immigrants who just arrived in Germany. More than 40 teenagers talked on stage about their experiences when we all went camping together. Is Millionen! a project about refugees and integration? Not exactly; it’s about the courage of teenagers to be themselves, on stage, and in real life.
Key accomplishments and impact of the work
If you meet Mammalian on eye level, with a real interest in working together, and if you accept that you are equal players in the game, it might not only change the participants’ lives, but also your institution.
Everyone involved in work with Mammalian shares the same powers. Everyone brings something into the artistic work: the artists, their experience and knowledge; the institution, the money; the youth; their specific energy and point of view. Kids are equal rights holders – and are never ‘shushed’.
Mammalian makes the whole world a possible stage: a hairdresser’s salon, a neighbourhood of a city, the front row of the theatre. They discover together with young people and other non-professionals new ways and places to play, literally and figuratively.
Cultural diversity is a priority for Mammalian. Through their performances, they bring people together who might not otherwise meet or become friends, creating new ways we can be together in the world.
Mammalian has youth collaborators in several cities who have continued to work with the company as they’ve grown through their teen years. This indicates that youth enjoy and get something important out of working with Mammalian – that is impact.
The underlying principle of the event was in the trust and communication between the children and the working members of MDR, who instilled agency into the children’s hands and let them set the tone in a social situation where their opinions and wants are often ignored … “Eat the Street” was one of the best socially engaged practices I have ever encountered and participated in. The event worked for the sheer simplicity and transparency of the project’s ability to inspire genuine connections and generosity between loosely connected strangers.
Amy Fung, Pacific Post
Just as art can be used to subtly shift the ways we view the world, “These are the People in Your Neighbourhood” shifts the constructs and boundaries of the relationships between these children and these businesses. Just the tour is owned by the children, they have a right of ownership over the neighbourhood: and through the tour they expand that sense of belonging over to us.
Jane, “No Plain Jane” (blog). www.noplain.wordpress.com
“Nightwalks with Teenagers” was an important and significant opportunity in my life. It helped me develop a sense of responsibility in planning and curating, and also greater cultural sensitivity; not only that, but it helped me become a better entertainer in general. Dana Liu, 20, Toronto youth participant in Bristol, UK
Haircuts By Children at London International Festival of Theatre (2010)
The Children’s Choice Awards at the Ruhrtriennale International Festival of the Arts (2012-14)
Nightwalks with Teenagers at In Between Time (2015)
Mammalian Diving Reflex
c/o Goodfellas Gallery
1266 Queen St. West
Toronto, ON M6K 1L3 Canada