KABUL, Afghanistan – The audience rose to its feet, cheering and applauding for Navy Reserve Cmdr. Ty Lemerande at the end of his two-hour, one-man performance of Shakespearean scenes at the International Security Assistance Force’s headquarters.
It was the second show at the base for Lemerande, of Scituate, Mass., who is serving as an ISAF public affairs officer in Kabul.
He and his wife, Amy, are the founders of Knighthorse Theatre Company, online at www.knighthorse.org, and they travel along the I-95 corridor to perform, mostly in schools. They also offer free performances on Cape Cod each summer.
They use a minimum of props, simple costumes and no sets, instead taking advantage of the audience’s imagination, which “is lying out there, dormant, waiting to be tapped by Shakespeare’s amazing language,” Lemerande said.
His shows at ISAF, which were offered free through the installation’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation program, drew a total of about 500 people combined.
Both his first was a one-man adaptation of Hamlet on Aug. 20. The second, a series of scenes, each performed at audience request, featured Lemerande delivering hundreds of lines and portraying dozens of characters. Throughout, aiding audience members perhaps unfamiliar with a particular play, he prefaced scenes with historical and literary perspective, sprinkling humor in as well.
“It’s a way of taking something old and making it new again,” he said. “We give them Shakespeare, but we give it to them in a way they may not have experienced before. We make it fun.”
He has a master’s degree in acting from Penn State University, and he and his wife have devoted their careers to performing and teaching Shakespeare.
“Knighthorse is a way to combine our love of teaching and our love of acting, and our love of each other,” he said of founding the company.
His wife is finalizing the company’s spring schedule during Lemerande’s deployment, which is due to end in late November. Generally, Lemerande said, they tour in the fall and spring, while offering Free Shakespeare on Cape Cod over the summer. Each holiday season, they write a new show for the upcoming year.
While they often perform together, crafting one-man and one-woman performances helps the couple work around Lemerande’s deployments or the demands of parenting. Lemerande’s one-man “Hamlet” became necessary when his wife, Amy, became pregnant with the couple’s first child. This year, with his deployment imminent, he prepared two one-woman shows for Amy to perform over the summer while he was away. The plays, “Touched by War” and “Bound by Love,” showcase Shakespearean women and were Amy’s first foray into solo performance.
Amy rehearsed while raising their 2-year-old alone to ensure she could stage the couple’s fifth full season of Free Shakespeare.
“We have families who come to Wellfleet every year, and they make a point of telling us that Free Shakespeare is something they always look forward to,” said Amy, who performed for more than 4,000 audience members over this past summer.
The couple’s adaptations stay true to the spirit of the original while morphing into a one- or two-person performance. Lemerande said transforming a 400-year-old script written for a cast of more than a dozen actors can be difficult, but is “always informative and truly rewarding.”
He said he chooses a central character to be the storyteller. He then adds interludes, which must be written in the character’s voice, to craft something which in the end is a new version of the established classic.
His one-man adaptation of “Hamlet,” for example, is told by Horatio, one of the only characters left alive at the end of Shakespeare’s play.
“The setting of our play is a graveyard, where Horatio, many years later, tells the story of his friend’s life and death – a task Hamlet himself entrusted to him with his final breath when he says, ‘Draw thy breath in pain to tell my story,’” Lemerande said.
Knighthorse has now has several adaptations and continues to add new scenes and monologues to their Shakespearean medley performance. Lemerande describes Knighthorse’s approach as “very interactive.”
“We talk to our audience. We sit down next to them. We invite them to join us on a journey of discovery and imagination,” he said.
This work, Massachusetts reservist performs Shakespeare in Kabul, by Erika Stetson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.