PuSh Blog

Darren O’Donnell: Reflections on Eating the Street with Children

December 29, 2011

Now that our Haircuts by Children have grown back and we’ve recovered from the high of our Children’s Choice Awards, we are delighted to welcome another PuSh experience fraught with the unbridled opinions and exclamations of children with Eat the Street.

We spoke with the ever-adventurous Darren O’Donnell, Artistic and Research Director of Mammalian Diving Reflex about the value and challenges of working with children.

How do you decide the theme for each project? (Haircuts, Children’s Choice Awards, The restauranteur experience of Eat the Street)

We are just trying to think of fun stuff to do with kids and adults together that tend to flip hierarchies so the actual activities are often just fancy excuses to make that happen. The theme is the same thing over and over and over. In terms of how we pick the activity, I don’t know. They just seem like good ideas, I suppose.

How do these experiences with children inform the rest of your work?

They’ve made me very relaxed about outcomes. When you work with kids, you pretty much have to give up on controlling how things happen and you have to work with what you get. That’s really valuable in all contexts.

What drew you to children as collaborators?

Nothing, really. Haircuts by Children occurred to me while attending a antiracist conference in Chicago when I tried to get a kid to cut my hair and he wouldn’t. The project was so successful that everybody thinks we’re experts at working with children and we enjoyed it so much that we didn’t mind the shift. But, we kept working with kids because they are really a contested entity. I had been trying to make “edgy” work all of my life but when I started to work with kids, many people reacting strongly, some suggesting I’m a pedophile or that the work is unethical or suggesting that we should lower the age of consent. Craziness. But productive craziness. There’s a community artist in Vancouver who slandered me on a blog and the lawyers had to be called in and she deleted it all. Because children represent a future ideal of us, they are in the middle of many battles. That makes them interesting collaborators. They also force adults to choose between a dictatorial hierarchy, where you control their bodies with very little negotiation, or a situation where you pretty much let them do whatever they want and the situation becomes quite anarchic. So forcing adults to choose between authoritarianism and anarchism is a pretty funny thing to do.

What’s next?

They Came from Outer Space – video
Dare Night: To Hell with the Truth will be happening monthly at gallerywest in Toronto and a special one on February 18th at the Drake.
we will be doing Eat the Street, in Vancouver in January-February
Monster Makers in Ottawa in March
Rights of the Child, infraction ticket (artist multiple)
The Best Sex I’ve Ever Had in Germany and Switzerland in April and Singapore in May and Vancouver in June.
These are the People in Your Neighborhood, May 2012, Toronto
Nightwalks with Teenagers, June 2012, Leeds UK
The Torontonians vs. The Gladstone Hotel, August 2012
Haircuts by Children in a few places in Australia
Companions and Strangers, summer 2012, Australia and Fall 2012, Toronto
The Children’s Choice Awards in Germany at the Rhurtriennelle
The Children’s Choice Awards at Nuit Blanche
a Residency at the Art Gallery of Ontario
a gig in Philly at some market there.
plus I’m working on a Msc in Urban Planning at U of T and hope to go overseas for a Phd.


Darren O’Donnell is a writer, director, social acupuncturist, designer and research director of The Tendency Group. His shows include A Suicide-Site Guide to the City, Diplomatic Immunities, pppeeeaaaccceee, [boxhead], White Mice, Over, Who Shot Jacques Lacan?, Radio Rooster Says That’s Bad and Mercy! He has written for C Magazine, Public, Canadian Theatre Review, Daily News and Analysis India and Descant.