Play History for Me

Cape Cod Times | April 26, 2006 | By Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll

You have a craving for a little Shakespeare.  But will it be Hamlet or Macbeth?

How about the romance of Romeo and Juliet?  Or the comedy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

But what if you could have a taste of all those and more?

That’s the idea behind the Shakespearean Jukebox, the invention of a husband-and-wife team: Tyrus Lemerande and Amy McLaughlin Lemerande.  Together they make up the Knighthorse Theatre Company.  Their show is by request, so never the same twice.  The team delivers scenes from any of Shakespeare’s 38 plays selected by the audience the same way they would punch buttons to hear their favorite jukebox tune.

The audience calls out their choices of plays, sometimes specifying which character or scene they’d like to see.  Ty – in black pants, puffy-sleeved shirt, high boots and robe, with a sword and knife on his belt – then morphed on a bare stage from Cassius to Henry V to Shylock to Richard III and other characters.

“We want to bring Shakespeare alive using nothing but his words and your imagination,” he told the group.

Ty often interacted with the audience, speaking lines directly to particular people or asking a man to stand and speak as Kate’s father in The Taming of the Shrew.

During scenes from 11 plays, Ty explained the plots, action and meaning for those not as conversant in the Bard.  He used everyday terminology, referring to Macbeth as “the Terminator of Shakespeare’s plays” and likening Hamlet’s homecoming to a college student returning to find his dad dead and Uncle Claude hanging out with his mom.

With that approach and his boundless energy and enthusiasm, Ty seems like an ideal teacher.  And when not staging public performances that’s what the couple does: they travel, with a few props, bringing Shakespeare to schools and trying to make him “cool.”

Their “guiding purpose” is to present Shakespeare “in such a way that anyone can enjoy it.  We want them to hear it for the first time, new and fresh with this kind of energy and passion they’re not used to seeing.  Our biggest goal is to come to a school and show he can be fun, he can be exciting and you can laugh.  We try to infuse the performance with a sense of fun and wonder.”

After a recent performance, a teacher said she wanted to go home and reread the plays.  “If I can inspire someone to pick up one of Shakespeare’s plays, any play, and want to experience it again, that’s a great reward,” Ty says.

Ty and Amy came to this life from very different places.  An athlete while growing up in California, Ty learned to love acting and Shakespeare late in high school.

After graduate school, he won a spot with Shenandoah Shakespeare Company in Virginia, where he fell in love with Amy.  She mainly did musicals at Marshfield High Schooland hated Shakespeare (getting a D in Othello), but was changed by a “fantastic” teacher while in graduate school at Trinity Rep Conservatory in Providence.

After touring with Shenandoah, the two wanted to stay together.  A chance request to perform Shakespeare at a charity benefit proved people liked their approach.  They started Knighthorse in 2003, with the help from a lawyer impressed by their performances and were married by the spring of 2004.

Why Shakespeare?  “I love Shakespeare and I have a very strong personality,” Ty says as Amy laughs.  “And he’s dead so I can do what I want with his plays.  I can adapt them any way I want.”  And, Amy observes, “We don”t have to pay him.”

And why a jukebox?  That idea sprang from two things; Ty had 50 of Shakespeare’s speeches in his head by graduate school and when he was hawking the couple’s [first] show atScotland”s Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2004, people would ask him to recite them.

They have at least one piece ready from every Shakespeare play, with multiple scenes for favorites like Hamlet.

“The great thing about the Jukebox is you can come four times and never see the same show,” Amy says.  “You really have no idea where the audience is going to take you.  It’s really exciting, but really scary at the same time.”