Bodhi Tree Concerts Stages Online Encore Of '8 Songs For A Mad King' On Friday
Show swaps out Donald Trump for King George III in avant-garde show
In 2017 Bodhi Tree Concerts performed "Eight Songs for a Mad King" at the San Diego International Fringe Festival. The Mad King of the title was meant to be George III but in its production he bore a striking resemblance to Donald Trump. Now Bodhi Tree Concerts offers a single, virtual encore performance of the show at 6 p.m., Friday.
"Eight Songs for a Mad King" won Best of Fringe and remains one of my all time favorite Fringe shows. It was a wildly inventive and interactive show that had audience members live Tweeting with Tweets showing up on monitors scattered around the large conference room.
Walter Dumelle, as the Trump-like mad king, threw himself into the role with fittingly insane gusto and frequently climbed up on the long boardroom table to strut in front of the crowd and to even do a strip tease. It was a wildly immersive show that had audiences Tweeting on their phones and on the little bird whistles they had been provided it. It was a memorable production and an inspiring evening of live theater.
But three years later, COVID has changed things. Live theater is on hold but Bodhi Tree is back with a rebooted and reimagined "Eight Songs for a Mad King."
"So we don't have the live Tweeting," Diana DuMelle explained. "But we do have a lot of media going on at all times and monitors behind the mad king."
Dumelle along with her husband, Walter, founded Bodhi Tree Concerts. Walter had been eager to perform as the Mad King for decades.
"'Eight Songs' has been one of those pieces that had been on my music shelf for about the last 25 years," Walter DuMelle said. "I was waiting for the perfect synergistic opportunity to unveil itself and the Fringe Festival was, in fact, that opportunity. Pivoting the mad king from George III to our at that point, recently-elected mad king, seemed like an appropriate fit and the fit is all the more appropriate today."
This rebooted "Eight Songs for a Mad King" has been videotaped with Walter performing to a now empty table. If the Fringe production merely suggested the Mad King was Trump this new production leaves no room for doubt as Walter wears an orange wig and real news footage plays behind him.
With the election just days away Diana just couldn’t resist revisiting the work.
"We have a lot more content. Boy, do we have a lot more material after three years," she said.
"Eight Songs" premiered in 1969. The avant-garde song cycle by Peter Maxwell Davies depicted King George III’s descent into madness. It also tested the sanity and skill of anyone who took on the role. That’s why as a singer Walter had his eye on it.
"It was a vehicle for, at the time, what was very provocative, extended vocal techniques," he explained. "So the singer is truly an actor/singer using his voice in a lot of creative extended ways that would not be normally found on the operatic stage."
Walter screams, speaks gibberish, emits ape-like sounds, and generally pushes his voice to the limit.
"If you were to look at a sheet of the sheet music, you would see more suggestive lines and arrows than you would actually notes to sing," he said. "It doesn't imply necessarily a note to be sung, but something to do with your voice. He has a lot of instructions that say get whiney or sing like an alto. So there is a lot of vocal suggestions that are not defined."
"Mad King" is also a challenge for the musicians.
"It calls for is six instrumentalists with a quite a wider range of percussion instruments, giving it a wide palette of sounds," Walter said.
Sounds that can be dissonant and jarring and Walter has to match that to reflect the character’s descent.
"[I'm] almost screaming and vomiting the madness coming out of this guy," he added.
Maxwell Davies took the real rantings of King George to create his monodrama of a mad monarch.
"in some of the little poems and writings that King George wrote he was believed to have been taught that the birds were talking to him," Walter stated. "So the piece sort of pivots around a lot of tweeting-like sounds that communicate to him."
And of course Tweeting takes on a whole new meaning when you are talking about Trump and social media today. For this production the instrumentalists are essentially "Tweeting" from their own cages.
"Because most of the orchestra represents King George's birds that would talk to him. And so we want to try and put them in cages," explained Diana.
Walter added: "The instrumentalists are in their own cages and they are all individual players in this show. And by being able to focus the video camera on them and their amazing playing, and Diana and I finding a way to organically and intentionally have their playing become part of the storytelling has been really a lot of fun in a way that when we're presenting it for theater, you're limited by how much you can do of that."
Quarantine has prompted a new kind of innovation from Bodhi Tree Concerts but their mission is still the same: to employ local artists, support causes, and engage people through music. This production can be seen as a call to action.
"We're thinking of it as a please get out and vote vehicle," Diana said. "We're just we're just it's art imitating life and we're putting it out there. And we just want people to vote, vote, vote, vote."
Because the DuMelles feel this is the most important election of their lifetime.