Kids take on Vancouver's restaurant scene
// Leanne Kriz

At 6pm on Jan. 27, a dozen shy but excited fifth and sixth graders filed into the Nuba Restaurant at the Waldorf Hotel. Donned with notepads, they sipped the unusual “cukewater” – the nickname they had chosen for the cucumber-flavoured water – and began their sincere and merciless reviews of the restaurant.

These students from Bridgeview Elementary School in Surrey took part in an event called Eat the Street, organized by Mammalian Diving Reflex and presented by the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver. From Jan. 5 to Feb. 4, the public was invited to sit, eat, and share dinner conversation with the children at various restaurants across Vancouver. For the rest of the evening, the restaurant would be under the watchful eye of these juvenile critics; everything from the urinals and soap dispensers, to the decor and cutlery. Darren O’Donnell, Artistic and Research Director of Mammalian Diving Reflex, says that the Eat the Street event is just one of many of the performances and social experiments that the company has created.

O’Donnell explains that the idea for the event spurred from the need to address the growing gap between the worlds of adults and children: “At this point in history, for whatever reason, and I have a few ideas as to why this may be, adults and children who don’t know each other have no way to spend any time with each other,” he explains. “The way adults and children spend time together is under really, really strict institutional situations. So what this is trying to do is to induce an encounter between young people and adults that is a little off the chart.”

The Mammalian Diving Reflex was originally founded as a theatre company in 1993 and evolved into what they are today. They hold community events, theatre-based performances, and participatory experiences similar to Eat the Street. The first event of this kind, called Haircuts by Children, was very much like the title indicates: a performance where children worked in a salon and were paid to cut the hair of any willing participant. The event took place in several different cities internationally, including Vancouver, New York, and Bologna, Italy. It was a huge hit and the demand for more events of this interactive style exploded.

O’Donnell explains that the idea behind this format was to integrate the performance with the audience: “I don’t like writing scripts anymore,” he says. “The audience over there, the actor over there, repeating lines that they have said a million times; [it’s more about] actually creating encounters between people.”

The company looks to integrate all levels of the community. For example, according to Statistics Canada, 32 per cent of seniors over the age of 85 live in institutional residency, and 34 per cent live alone. The company works to change these realities and looks towards a better future or a “new world,” explains O’Donnell, “where people might be more kind to each other, where income and resources might be a little more equitably distributed … where kids are allowed in more places, where old people aren’t shunted off to old folks homes.”

In another effort to breakdown these age-related barriers, the company is putting on an event entitled The Best Sex I’ve Ever Had where a number of older people get together to discuss their sexual experiences and invite the public to join them in the discussions.

Whether through the conduit of children or seniors, haircuts or dinners, Mammalian Diving Reflex creates a new arena for people to interact with and better understand their fellow community members.

For Eat the Street, eight different restaurants, including Calabash Bistro, Chambar, and The Old Spaghetti Factory opened their arms to the event, the children, and their seriously honest reviews. The finale of the event took place with a ceremony in which a slew of different awards were presented. The awards included “Most Comfy Seats”; “Best Smelling Washroom”; “Server That Looks Most Like A Child”; and numerous more. The “Best of the Best” and overall winner was Chill Winston, who also swept up “Most Luxurious Furniture”; “Nicest Host”; “Best Flamb.”; “Whitest Chef Jacket”; and “Best Dessert”.

Despite the grandiose award ceremonies, Eat the Street was about much more than just food. reviews. The Mammalian Diving Company places people in situations outside of the norm and creates an opportunity for social encounters that would otherwise not have occurred. Through the use of comedy, real-time interactions, and, in the case of Eat the Street, the obscure placement of children in unexpected roles, the company forces participants to rethink the social sphere.

//Leanne Kriz, writer
//Graphics by Britta Bacchus

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