DB Project’s production, “Try Me,” was inspired by Libby Larsen’s musical composition, Try Me, Good King: Last Words of the Wives of Henry VIII. In his desperation to produce a male heir, Henry VIII treated women as consumable commodities that could be disposed of once they had achieved their usefulness or proved too difficult to manage. The wives of Henry VIII are both legendary and a part of popular culture, therefore, becoming the topic of countless historical examinations, popular fiction, songs, movies and television shows. Due to their iconic status, these women’s true identities, thoughts and personal feelings have been obscured by society and much misinformation about them has been portrayed and infinitely repeated. Try Me, Good King uses letters and recorded gallow’s speeches of Henry’s first five wives, to create a musical tapestry that depicts a universal story about the precarious position of women caught in a cycle of abuse. Through manipulation, gaslighting, false accusations and threats of violence, Henry expected his wives to play an impossible game with deadly consequences. Katherine of Aragon was cruelly tossed aside in favor of a younger model. Anne Boleyn wrongly staked her life so that the truth would set her free. Jane Seymour fulfilled her function as bearer of an heir, only to die as a result. Anne of Cleves gleefully escaped unscathed. Katherine Howard was desired for the youth and vivacity that ultimately led her to the scaffold. This production seeks to breathe new life into these women’s words by giving the Queens a platform with which to tell their stories, mirroring their narrative of abuse and violence with modern day monologues inspired by the stories of our time. “Try Me”, highlights and celebrates the universality of women finding solidarity and strength through the ability to take back their narrative. To co-opt the sentiment of Anne Boleyn, “Go ahead and try us, we dare you.”
The second portion of the show features the world premiere of A Lily Among Thorns, an operatic combination and reordering of John La Montaine’s song cycles Songs of the Rose of Sharon and Fragments from the Song of Songs. Inspired by the line “I am black, but comely,” and composed during an unlikely time in American History that was characterized by Jim Crow laws, segregation, rampant sexism, and religious conservatism, composer John La Montaine set two song cycles—Songs of the Rose of Sharon (1947) and Fragments from the Song of Songs (1959)—on texts from Song of Songs. Often referred to by religious scholars as the most irreligious book of the Bible, Song of Songs is told primarily from the perspective of a woman—arguably a black woman—and blatantly celebrates sexual pleasures between unmarried lovers without mention of God or religious philosophy. By setting this text in a female’s voice, La Montaine gives power and ownership of sexual independence, equality, and the beauty in being different to women. La Montaine highlights themes that were provocative and subversive to the cultural climate in which he lived, including: female empowerment and independence in a relationship, freedom of sexuality, and the beauty of blackness or being “other.” These works remain especially pertinent today because of our social climate and critical issues such as discrimination, sexuality, race, and gender. Though American culture has continued to improve upon its racist, sexist, intolerant past, there are deep-rooted elements of all of these issues that continue to persist. In our modern world, violence and discrimination of those considered “other” continue to propogate movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #EverydaySexism, and #EffYourBeautyStandards. It is becoming increasingly important for artists to present works that relate to current issues and events; the message of social justice that can be interpreted in this work transcends the era of the compositions’ creation and is still relevant today.