Brandeis’ annual Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts rightfully had the slogan “Shout the Big Dreams,” a theme which incorporated the artistic inclinations of more than 300 critically acclaimed Brandeis students and alumni. Produced by the Office of Arts, the festival was open and free to the public and featured a plethora of art media, from theater to dance to visual art to music and even film. Brandeis’ campus was abounding with the most beautiful art, some of which was publicly displayed, and guest artists from around the world also made an appearance much to the university’s delight.
Leonard Bernstein was once quoted as famously saying, “It is the artists of the world, the feelers and the thinkers, who will ultimately save us; who can articulate, educate, defy, insist, sing and shout the big dreams,” a portion of which was the inspiration for the 2016 festival. The events, which took place over the course of four days from April 14 to 17, had something to offer every person, no matter their artistic preference. The SCC became a beacon for artistic creativity, as Brandeis students, faculty, staff and Waltham residents flocked to the giant green building to experience a small fraction of what the world of arts has to offer.
One of the featured performances at the festival was the Knighthorse Theatre Company, a husband and wife duo who perform famous scenes from Shakespeare’s works around the country. According to a description, “Amy McLaughlin Lemerande and Tyrus Lemerande have a simple mission: Make Shakespeare cool. Their limitless energy and infectious enthusiasm has taken them around the world opening eyes to the magic of Shakespeare’s language.” These two performers believe in giving a raw, unadulterated version of Shakespeare’s plays, using the bare essentials to recreate his vision in such a way that it is more accessible to a younger audience.
On Sunday, April 17 at 3 p.m. in the SCC atrium, both actors started off the show with perhaps the most well-known Shakespearean play, “Romeo and Juliet.” Utilizing all that the space afforded them, wife Amy McLaughlin went midway up the SCC stairwell and used it to perform the infamous balcony scene. Both parties were capable of bringing to life a performance unlike any other, a feat which was characterized by a very engaged and expressive cast. Never stumbling over a word or phrase, the duo adequately projected their voices to the audience, while also making the interactions appear seamless, even ordinary—a feat which proves especially difficult with lines as complex as those found in Shakespearean plays.
In a performance that lasted a little over an hour, the seasoned actors were truly invested in their unique portrayal of Shakespeare’s classic works, a task which required unrelenting passion, energy and outstanding exuberance. Although it was apparent that their performance did have its limitations, Knighthorse Theatre Company was still able to present pieces of Shakespeare’s plays in a new and interesting format. The storylines of his classic works were also made more accessible to younger audiences as the couple outlined a basic summary before each individual performance, sometimes even asking for audience participation in these explanations.
The couple also portrayed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which was made more difficult considering that the actors had to play more than one character at a time. Even so, the actors took this challenge in stride and were more than capable of channeling completely different personalities. The love triangle was made ever more interesting to the audience based on the fact that the acting was very lively, even overdone; the actors’ interpretation of the various characters is over-the-top, but in a way that is what makes the performance all the more easily understood. However, this acting choice is certainly also a double edged sword—the same quality that makes the performance immediately understandable also simplifies Shakespeare’s work, reducing it to caricatures that are sometimes lacking in depth.
The Knighthorse Theater Company, although giving a pleasing performance riddled with the wonders of the English language, experienced acting and the flouncy costumes of the era, represents only one very small sliver of the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts. The Festival in and of itself marked an explosion of Brandeis’ creative talents in all artistic disciplines. Both the glorious, sunny weather and the sheer number of artistic events encouraged the recognition of the wonderfully diverse artistic realm, a mersion of which many Brandeis-affiliated persons were able to enjoy.