While originally planning their latest project, K Body and Mind, as a live performance, like many artists during the pandemic, experimental theatre creator Conor Wylie and Vancouver-based interdisciplinary performance collective A Wake of Vultures knew that to make it a reality, they would need to pivot. The result is a re-envisioned episodic sci-fi miniseries that can be viewed at home.
Blending 90s anime, cyberpunk aesthetics and an off-kilter performance style, K Body and Mind is set in the near future to tell the story of security specialist Kawabi who wants what everyone wants, to leave behind the scars of sickness, hunger, and war and lead a new life in a new body. Joining The Grove, an idealistic start-up with a fleet of bioengineered and shareable bodies, when a hostile entity hacks its network, colonizing the minds and bodies of its inhabitants, Kawabi must rescue her new home by reckoning with a ghost of the past.
In this Q&A with the director, writer and producer of K Body and Mind Conor Wylie, who in 2019 was chosen as the Siminovitch Prize Protégé, we find out more.
The three-episode miniseries K Body and Mind will be available for on-demand viewing from March 6-14. Visit kbodyandmind.com for more information.
This interview has been edited.
What inspired K Body and Mind?
K Body and Mind is a bit of a nerdy obsession. I have this experience when I watch some kinds of minimalist performance – initially, it was Richard Maxwell and the NYC Players – where the lack of visual information on stage makes me as an audience member visualize what isn’t there like I’m imagining a film over top of the play I’m watching.
I wanted to take that experience and push it to the extreme via the cyberpunk genre. The touchstones of the genre, the cityscapes and synthesizers, are instantly recognizable, but the scale is so much bigger than we ever tackle in the theatre. So you get this rich, evocative soundscape and story, but you as the audience member have to connect-the-dots between what you can and can’t see.
Who is K Body and Mind for?
I mean, there is maybe someone out there who is deep into sci-fi and anime, and experimental performance and David Lynch and have been to Hong Kong and Japan; that very specific person will be really into K Body and Mind. But I don’t think you need to be into all of those things to find something K Body and Mind you can vibe with.
Maybe you’re put off by ‘experimental’ art, but this also has rooftop chase scenes and a pumping soundtrack. Maybe you’re not into the nitty-gritty of sci-fi mechanics, but at its heart, K Body and Mind is also a story about family and community and loss and transformation. Yes, there’s a strange experiment here, but there’s also a dog, pop music, and bubble tea.
Whether you’re looking for the high brow or low brow stuff or both, I think you can find a reason to check out K Body and Mind. If it’s not your cup of tea, drop out after episode one. If you love it, binge all three.
Did you have any specific cultural audiences in mind for K Body and Mind?
To answer that question a little sideways. For me, I’m an Asian-Canadian artist, but I don’t really want to be making ‘identity plays’ or playing roles or telling stories that are necessarily Asian-Canadian. I want to make whatever the heck I want. I think a lot of BIPOC artists feel that way. I think that’s why movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther have done so well. We want BIPOC superheroes and romcoms. So here’s my stab at science-fiction. It’s a genre that borrows heavily from Asian aesthetics, societies, and philosophies but do you ever see an Asian lead in a Western sci-fi film?
I think Asian-Canadian artists often get steered towards specific narratives or roles. But our two performers, Donna Soares and Jasmine Chen, are incredibly dynamic, so I wanted to create roles worthy of them. They’re playing multiple characters, separating voice from body from choreography; they’re really captivating to watch. And sound designer Nancy Tam has created such a rich and varied sound world for K Body and Mind; it’s a huge component in building this universe.
So, yes, we have a fair amount of Asian-Canadian representation, and we’re trying to create an experience that feels totally fresh and new.
Can you speak a bit about adapting this work during the pandemic?
Turning K Body and Mind into a film or a TV series was always kind of a faraway dream that I thought I’d chase after we finished the theatre production. But when the pandemic hit, my reaction was it’s gonna be a film first.
I’m lucky that my Wake of Vultures collaborators Nancy Tam and Daniel O’Shea are already extremely versed in the film medium; being an interdisciplinary collective was a real advantage when it came to pivoting.
Though this version of K Body and Mind isn’t live, I think it faithfully captures the details of the performance and the sophisticated patterning of the design and choreography. For me, representing the work quality from my collaborators was more important than the show being live. The piece is a bit of a hybrid. You can still feel its roots as a theatre piece. It’s shot in a 100-year-old theatre. But we’ve also definitely leaned into some film and TV flourishes.