All The Sex I've Ever Had
Mammalian Diving Reflex
"At first, it was interesting to talk about sex, but after spending time with a bunch of seniors in Toronto, I realized the thing that's really exciting is their ontological state of mind, the way they are in the world, their openness and generosity."
Darren O'Donnell, artistic director of Mammalian Diving Reflex
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1714 Delancey Place (map)
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Senior citizens from Philadelphia are going to talk all about sex: the evolution of their sexuality over the course of their lives, the current state of their romantic affairs, their challenges and pleasures. No topic is too hot: first crushes, lost virginity, turbulent affairs, relationships that transcend class and racial boundaries, and deaths of loved ones. Hear the experiences of entire lifetimes as a panel of elders triggers conversations, fields questions, and dances with the audience.
Toronto's theater-laboratory Mammalian Diving Reflex presents their latest socially conscious reality theater piece, one that challenges the cultural neutering of older people and discussions of sex. All the Sex I've Ever Had reestablishes seniors as people who have a lot to teach and a lot to share—and who demonstrate how ageing can yield a way of existing that is open, generous, and fearless.
Interview with artistic director Darren O'Donnell
FringeArts: What inspired All The Sex I've Ever Had?
Darren O'Donnell: Most people do it, but few talk about it; aging and sexuality are not a contradiction. About sixty percent of women and eighty percent of men between the ages of fifty and seventy state they have regular sex (in an American survey by Waite et al, 2009), but it's not easy to share this aspect of their lives; children, grandchildren, and friends often react with disgust.
With All the Sex I've Ever Had, our hypothesis was that older people are no less sexually interested and active than the population of young people who are generally depicted as being horny for action. Turns out we were both wrong and right. Based on long and relatively in-depth discussions with over seventy people over the course of four years, it appears that active sexuality declines in life's later years, not so much from disinterest or compromised physiology, but rather from a lack of obsessive compulsion. Priorities shift such that sexuality becomes as interesting as some of life's other hobbies, and often significantly less so. The really interesting thing about the sex lives of older people is just how uninteresting they are. It is just sex, after all.
FringeArts: What's the process in creating such a work?
Darren O'Donnell: Our research always starts from a number of hypotheses that we test through our projects, allowing the insights gained to affect and change the project design and implementation. We begin deductively: we first have an idea about a social dynamic—we believe energy is latent, hidden or trapped within an ossified social relation and we form a hypothesis about what might trigger and release this energy through the application of a temporary atypical social dynamic. Luckily, we are almost always wrong. Which is exactly what we want to be.
We utilize what we call "social acupuncture" to poke at social dynamics. Social acupuncture as a method examines social dynamics, looks for holding patterns characterized by excess and depletion, then steps in and attempts to create new social dynamics through the creation of small, temporary, atypical performances by mobilizing and deploying the company's resources, as well as marshaling the formidable resources of our various patrons: the international festivals, galleries, museums and civic administrations who engage our services. These institutions provide the force behind our needles, which we insert into social flows to see if we can disrupt and redirect energy in ways that are temporary, experimental, and tentative. We are not social engineers, making large-scale changes through central planning; we are curious nerds sending little shocks into the system to observe what happens, making sure that everyone who participates does so with fully informed consent, and with a conscious intent to always create a good time for the participants and an entertaining time for our audience.
FringeArts: How do you see audiences connecting to the work?
Darren O'Donnell: Taken on its own, social acupuncture can provide some scintillating fun, and certainly has the potential to register at the level of interesting art, but for better or worse, it can only be a small factor in anything resembling a meaningful social change. We can hang out with a ribald group of senior citizens and talk big talk about opening up avenues for sexual expression, but unless there is wider social support for this objective, art is going to stay art.
About Mammalian Diving Reflex
Mammalian Diving Reflex is a research-art atelier conducting culturally explorative work from Toronto, Canada, since 1993. Evolving from staged-based performance, the artists of Mammalian are committed to the creation of "social acupuncture"—playful, provocative, site-specific, and social-specific participatory performances that extend the reach of theater-based productions, gallery-based participatory installations, video products, art objects, and theoretical texts. At the core of the sociological art shop are artistic and managing producers, Eva Verity and Jenna Winter; youth program "Young Mammals" director and programmer, Annie Wong and Alexandra Hong; and artistic and research director, Darren O'Donnell. The team has successfully carried their energies into the fields of urban planning, writing, directing, art history, education, photography, videography, filmmaking, industrial design, acting, playwriting, and qualitative and quantitative research. They have traveled more than fifty cities with collaborators including international art festivals, art galleries, city administrations, schools, and other socially-related institutions.