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About the Show

Fashion Machine is a live performance event by Theatre SKAM that features 28 local children and youth remaking select audience member’s outfits in under one hour. Following a week of training from SKAM artists, the kids circulate among the audience and select 7 lucky, brave patrons (among those wearing “I’m In” stickers – the less brave get chicken stickers) to be taken into the Fashion Machine. The audience hangs out, mingles and chats while the kids work. The event culminates in a short fashion show that reveals the 7 new outfits.

About Theatre SKAM

Theatre SKAM strives, with rigour and discipline, to effect positive social change in our community, to propel the professional careers of a wide range of artists, notably Victoria artists, and especially emerging artists, and to invigorate our community with living contemporary theatre and events that provide varied, inventive and surprising entertainment for audiences in Victoria and on tour.

Theatre SKAM has built a solid reputation as creators of innovative site-specific work and intimate elegant theatre. They play a pivotal role in the cultural life of their region and are recognized by peers across the country for the contribution to national networks and new work development.

Creative Team

Young Artists Aaliyah, Ariana, Bela, Camiel, Carina, Chy, Claudia, Eliza, Elle, Henry, Jane, Jessenia, Kyzeem, Lyra, Mimi, Naia, Roxie, Rut, Sophie, Zahra

Core Artists Pamela Bethel, Ingrid Hansen, Matthew Payne, Pauline Stynes, & Shayna Ward

Artist Statement

We created Fashion Machine in order to empower and give agency to the next generation of artists. The project places the young participants at the centre of the event. They have spent 12 hours with us, learning practical skills, discussing the state of the fashion industry and eating snacks. We love the artistic risk inherent in the project. The results are out of our adult hands. On principle we pay them for their work. Interestingly, the kids make about as much on the project as some faraway workers in the fashion industry make in a month. We hope the night for you is anything but boring. Thanks for joining us.

Nerd Out

Interview with Core Fashion Machine artists: Matthew Payne and Shayna Ward

FringeArts: How did the idea for Fashion Machine first come about?

Matthew Payne & Shayna Ward: In 2009 SKAM co-presented the show Haircuts by Children in Victoria by a Toronto company called Mammalian Diving Reflex. We were in the room as children participated in training sessions with a professional hairstylist. It was remarkable to see children grasp concepts quickly while having a blast doing it. Seeing that spark made us want to embark on something equally audacious in spirit.

FringeArts: Why clothes? What made that the right vehicle?

Matthew Payne & Shayna Ward: We wanted to try something where the training session made more of an impact than the two two-hour sessions the kids received in Haircuts by Children before they started giving free haircuts to people. As it turns out, remaking someone’s outfit is harder than cutting their hair. Fashion Machine requires more training (twelve hours). Part of that time is spent discussing where our clothes come from, the state of the fashion industry, and how new clothes are presented to the public. So the kids who train with us learn how images are manipulated and what they can do to break or better this cycle.

FringeArts: What are some of the things about children’s creativity and ways of accomplishing tasks that you find compelling?

Matthew Payne & Shayna Ward: Individual creativity is so diverse; there are never two kids that think, act, and design the same. We’re always seeing new ideas and personalities and it is constantly changing how we view the training and the meaning behind the show itself. Our biggest lesson has been the importance of space. The human brain needs time to absorb skills and lessons. Cramming the 12-hours of training into two days will not make for as high quality a show as spreading that same training out over a week. The children are more relaxed and their creativity is flowing when they have time to settle into the machine.

FringeArts: What are the ways that the audience takes in the show? And given the show’s framework, how did you come to gauge an audience’s successful engagement level in the work?

Matthew Payne & Shayna Ward: The show plays out as a kind of hybrid between theater and gallery installation. There are specific moments where we steer the viewer towards specific moments—the introduction of the kids, the part where we all yell “Ready, Set, Sew,” and the super brief fashion show at the end.  There’s also videos that play at intervals where the audience meets the kids on screen. The rest of the night is intended to be spent walking around viewing the children at work, watching the ever growing slide show (candid shots of the action and still life, engaging with other audience members, snacking and, if you feel like it, having a drink.

FringeArts: What have you worked on most in fine-tuning the process of making each Fashion Machine?

Matthew Payne & Shayna Ward: As we write this we’re working on a version at home in Victoria of Fashion Machine 100, with, you guessed it, 100 kids. We figure by the time we’ve done that, we’ll be very good at working with 28 kids, the maximum number of participants in Philly. On our last tour to the UK, we added the video element. We now consider that an essential element to the show. The adults on the project had been and still do wander into the workspace to attempt to conduct brief interviews with kids while they work, but the videos have proved a great way for us to introduce these new artists to the audience.


Support for this project has been provided by CRD Arts Development Service, the BC Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Victoria Foundation through the ALACS and Ruby Red Fund, and the Province of BC. 

Coming Up at FringeArts

February 1-3

In our age of alienation through technology and political divides, simply being together has become a political act. Sp3 deals abstractly with themes of alienation and the technologized body. We call into question the concept of “presence,” and ask how one can remain present, embodied, and engaged, allowing art in general and the body in specific to remain a site of resistance to complacency.

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