Kevin Kling and Chastity Brown.
Photo by T.J. Turner
When Kevin Kling signed up for a multi-year residency with Minnesota Public Radio, one of his dreams was to do an adaptation of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Three years in, he gets his wish with Gulliver Unravels, a remix of the original through Kling's signature viewpoint and aided by a team of collaborators.
That includes singer/songwriter Chastity Brown, who is the latest in a string of talented locally based musicians to work with Kling on these annual Thanksgiving-weekend productions.
"Part of it has to be living on the fringe," Kling says of the story's personal appeal. "I grew up in a world of disability, never fitting in. Gulliver is always the outsider looking at the world through a spectrum. Chastity brought up the idea of landscape. This is about landscape. We are creatures of landscape. These worlds include the one where they are floating above an island. They've lost touch with the earth."
For Brown, the collaboration comes up at a vital time in her development as a writer and performer. "I finally feel like I have accepted my voice and the 'genre' my songs fall into," she says. "I'm introducing two new songs. It's terrifying and so exciting."
Brown has been at work on those two songs for a good chunk of the year. "While I was in Europe, I really got a chance to play these tunes as a duo for a couple of months. I really enjoy live editing," she says.
"I chase down a story in a song and go down the rabbit hole. It took eight months to bring two songs where they were ready to share," Brown says. "Everything falls into place when I know what a song is about. My process is that I have to get to a place where the song is complete, and play it by myself. The band comes in and they bring the different sonic palates. They really help me arrange the songs. This process has really developed in the past year. They let me lead -- to have the helm of the ship -- but they are vital."
Cautious and deliberate, Brown spent several months picking the songs to be used in the show. Of the new tunes, "one adds breadth, the other is in line with the scene and the sentiment. The rest of the tunes are like that. They are cleansing of the palate, or the sonic version of what we just heard verbally," she says.
The show includes the stories from Swift's original book, with the action moved to a northern Minnesota bar where Brown and her band are playing and the regulars are enjoying, well, their regular.
"Everything Brad [Greenwald] says is from the text. I am outside of that, making comments," Kling says. "So much was steeped in the politics of the time. Sometimes I say what Swift was talking about in his time, sometimes I let the bar denizens talk about it."
The style aids in the exploration of the different issues at play. "Satire is an artifice, a façade for something a lot harder that's too real to put on the surface," Kling says.
IF YOU GO:
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
The Fitzgerald Theater
10 E. Exchange St., St. Paul
For tickets and information, call 800.982.2787 or visit online.