East Austin Studio Tour brings kids and scissors together for the haircut of alifetime
It’s 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Danny, a stylist from Peacock Salon, is demonstrating how to cut layers on a mannequin head. “I’m just going to layer up, cut up to the second knuckle,” he says. “Do you see, I stop right there, the second knuckle. Can y’all see, everyone see?” Some of his students nod; others squirm on the linoleum floor and look around the room. He continues to demonstrate, moving around the head, then dismisses the students to try layering for themselves. The room erupts in noise and chaos as 30 fifth graders scramble up from the floor and take a seat in front of their own mannequin head.
These students take their job seriously, because soon they’ll be doing the real thing. This Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. at the Peacock Salon on Cesar Chavez, this group of 10- and 11-year-olds from Pecan Springs Elementary will be offering haircuts to adults as part of the East Austin Studio Tour. The haircuts are totally free, though presenting organization Fusebox, an annual contemporary art and performance festival, is taking donations for supplies, food and transportation for the kids on its website.
For this project, Fusebox hired Toronto, Canada-based Mammalian Diving Reflex, a performance art company that puts on events that bring together groups that don’t normally interact and shifts the normal relationships—in this case, by having kids as stylists working on adult customers. Mammalian has been doing the haircuts by kids program all around the world since 2006.
At the event, the kids will run the whole salon. They’ll alternate between four stations: the reception desk, the haircutting (which they’ll do in pairs), standing on the street to lure in walk-ins, and a lemonade stand. On Monday, the kids will all decide together how to spend the money they raise at the lemonade stand—they might throw a pizza party, donate it to charity or spend it on a school project, for example.
Back in the classroom, the kids are hard at work on their mannequins. Some are carefully and deliberately combing, while others are batting at the heads with their combs. One kid sings as he sweeps hair up from the floor. In general, says Fusebox Producing Director Natalie George, the students take this very seriously. “They get very focused,” she says. “As soon as we showed up with heads and scissors, they took it seriously.”
For the kids, the project is partially about the fun of cutting hair, and partially about money—Mammalian is paying them an honorarium for their help. Eunice Dove Collins, 10, says she’s nervous that she’ll cut someone’s hair wrong, and she won’t get all of her money. She’s enjoying the experience, though. “I thought it was going to be boring, but it’s fun,” she says.
The students have been training after school for two hours three days this week, starting with the basics, then moving into layering, bangs, men’s cuts and then clippers. But attaining a perfect haircut is not the goal. “We’re not correcting them when it’s not straight,” says George, who explains that part of the goal of the project is for kids to learn creative freedom and develop their own sense of style. There’s no bad product.
In fact, Brooke of Peacock Salon, who demonstrates cutting bangs, recommends asking customers, “Do you mind if I try something new, like zig-zag bangs?” She demonstrates clipping hair out of the way to isolate a chunk of hair in front, cautioning the students to be careful about scissors near the eye. (One of the representatives from Mammalian assures that they’ve never had a casualty.)
Outspoken 11-year old Heaven Carter is combing and combing her mannequin’s head and spritzing it with water until it drips. She hasn’t yet made a cut, but she’s confident in her abilities. “I’m going to give [customers] all kinds of haircuts. I think they’ll really like it,” she says. “I think that they probably will want me to do their hair again.” Carter, like several of the students in the group, says she might want to be a hairstylist when she grows up. Unlike some people in the group, she says pointedly, she really likes hair; she doesn’t care about the money.
A few minutes later, Heaven cuts her finger. Danny of Peacock holds up her hand, and announces, “This is what happens when you cut past the second knuckle.”
George isn’t sure who all will show up for haircuts this weekend, but she’s hoping they’ll get a wide cross-section. Unsurprisingly, most of the people who have signed up online have been men, but with walk-ins, anything could happen. She’s also hoping customers will let the kids get creative with their hair. “Some of these boys really want to do mohawks,” she says, “so I’m hoping we get a couple of hipsters who are game.”
Next to Heaven, Cedric Foster, 11, is studiously cutting layers into his mannequin’s hair, fully focused on his task. And it looks good! His stepdad cuts hair, he says, and has taught him how, and even lets Cedric practice on him. Cedric wants to cut hair for a living when he grows up. “Aside from football,” he says, “it’s the only thing I want to do.”
Like Heaven, Cedric is confident that customers will like his work. When they look in the mirror, he says, “They’ll think, ‘That is very nice.’”