The public swoon’s
The Public Swoon is Kyla Gardiner and Barbara Adler. Together, they create and produce sprawling music theatre projects, experimental performance, and fake holidays.
Kyla and Barbara met in their first year of the MFA program at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver.
At the time, Barbara was deeply committed to making her band dress up as boy scouts.
Kyla’s first class presentation was 80% about her cat, Agnes.
The other 20% of the presentation was about Kyla’s work as a costume designer. She talked about making costumes that could create a private experience for the performer.
There were secrets, like invisible pockets sewn into a dress containing messages only the performer would know about. Or sometimes, just the process of paying attention to the performer’s needs through clothing could create a relationship and that would change things…
And what of Agnes, pictured here?
It turns out that considering Agnes was Kyla’s way of thinking through ethical relationships to the non-human.
Meanwhile, after a year or so of costumed rumination, Barbara realized that the boy scout thing was related to her fascination with ‘fake nature’ - the cultural practice and artifice we use to approach the non-human world.
Kyla and Barbara worked together on Barbara’s graduating project, a musical called Klasika. Its creation involved autoethnographic research into tramping, a Czech cultural practice which involves various forms of costumed recreation in semi-natural settings.
Basically, Barbara committed to dressing like a Hollywood cowboy for two months, hiking through the Czech countryside to see how this everyday performance would change her experience. Wait for it… it did.
Kyla did such a good job of costuming Barbara for her research, that Barbara ended up being cast to play a more romantic version of herself in Amerika, a staged documentary about tramping culture directed by Czech filmmaker/musician Jan Foukal. Amerika went on to screen at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and other festivals in Europe and North America.
Kyla and Barbara realized:
Design makes things happen
They continued to explore this idea through the creation process of Klasika, paying attention to the relationships they could signal and make through costume and by designing experiences for their collaborators and audience. There were social events, film screenings, artist collaborations, a series of articles on VANDOCUMENT, a lobby installation by Lukas Engelhardt where audiences were fed German-ish hiking snacks by the artist…
1. Brit Bachmann photo. 2. Megan Stewart photo. 3,4. Robert Leveroos & Lukas Engelhardt grass screen & event co-curation. Lukas Engelhardt photos. 5,6. Klasika, Paula Viitanen photo.
By the end, the project had created a world around it that was much more intricate than what was visible in the theatre. Of course, this is a normal part of performance practice.
But calling attention to the labour of relationship was becoming core to Kyla and Barbara’s collaboration.
Oh Agnes, it wasn’t easy
There was giddiness, pleasure, friendship, glories and failures.
After, everyone was tired for a long time.
this was interesting
Musical theatre is intensely collaborative, difficult to produce, and inherently interdisciplinary. It’s also a gloriously uncomfortable outlet for nature lovers who feel political allegiance to the faked and performative.
If you care about the ethics of relationship, it’s hard to find a theatrical form with more opportunities to be porous. Gather a group of creators, actors, composers, designers, musicians, producers. Get to know what they want and need, understand what they’re curious about… and try to care about all of that.
For Kyla and Barbara, making long-term, sprawling music theatre projects has become a research method where they try to figure out:
Currently, Kyla and Barbara are exploring that question through a new serialized musical called Mermaid Spring. Wait for it…