By Yazmeen Kanji
Lila Palmer has worked as a historian, a children’s book editor, a singer, a director, a social justice advocate and a librettist. Her multidimensional career experience has been highly beneficial to her artistic practice. Understanding the challenges and concerns of singers allows her to write for the artists accordingly. Her background as a historian brings relevance to her work. Two of Lila’s pieces from LIBLAB, Mousetrap and Two Sisters, will premiere in Tapestry Briefs: Tasting Shorts this September 13-16.
As a librettist, Lila believes that “the process is entirely dependent on the project.” If the idea is self-generated, she’ll spend a good amount of time researching before searching for composers. She starts by creating a “bad play” and refining the content while identifying relationships between themes that emerge. “It’s like a big block of marble. You’re always carving things away…but then it’s important to go back in [at the end] to make sure everything sings.”
Lila is a social activist and was involved with The Sounding Board, a company that aims to instigate social change through live music productions. She offered suggestions to make sure that the programming was socially conscious. Furthermore, she is the c-ofounder of a opera production company and gender equality consultancy firm called The Queens Revolt. Circling the opera industry has shown her that the equity movement in theatre may not be going in the right direction. Many heads of institutions mistakenly believe that there must be active searches for the contributions of minority groups, yet diverse members of the industry do exist and have simply been ignored. The organization also aims to create and produce plots where women have agency and are not solely the victims.
Lila has written a piece inspired by the moment when the British Army allowed women into combat roles. The project involved an all-female team. This was of the utmost importance to Lila, as she is disheartened that there are far more women entering the operatic profession than there are roles available for them. The project was a huge success and the British Army reached out to them, offering to present the piece at their venue as a celebration of women in the army.
THOUGHTS ON LIBLAB
Lila’s career experiences and interests directly align with the goals of LIBLAB. As described by Lila, the program is bringing a broader definition to what opera can achieve. She is thrilled that this year’s participants come from multiple different backgrounds who each contribute to how stories can be told and offer different discussions concerning the art form. Lila says that she has “never worked with a group as diverse as the librettists, composers and singers at LIBLAB.” During the past week, the groups have had difficult conversations and everyone has been respectful and open to learning from one another. While the process of creating an opera is typically a hierarchical one, LIBLAB offers the opportunity to create work with a flat structure where singers can also be included in the creative work. The prompts allow for new approaches to creating opera such as beginning with the idea and working on style as the context progresses.
Yazmeen Kanji is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto studying Cinema Studies, Equity Studies and Peace Conflict and Justice Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. She is an emerging filmmaker and the founder of a filmmaking organization called Films With A Cause.