Othello Unbound: Digital Shakespeare with Destinations Arts

Feedback from Othello Unbound workshop with KES Students
Feedback from Othello Unbound workshop with KES Students

During our session with students from King Edwards VII School in Sheffield, they  created an impromptu performance inspired by one of Shakespeare’s’ sonnets!

The workshop was based at the Owen building at Sheffield Hallam University’s City Campus at Sheffield. The students initially explored the differences between school and University life. The session then focussed on research and performance skills. After further  exploring relationships and racial prejudice themes in Othello, the very enthusiastic group split into two to rewrite and perform Shakespeare’s’ Sonnet 127. This Sonnet if from Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’ series of  sonnets that explore notions of blackness that go against most common conceptions of Elizabethan thinking.

The Performance

Working with Destinations Arts and supported by musician and performer JKAS,  an experienced song writer, the group adapted Shakespeare’s work and added newlines to Sonnet 127. The sonnet starts;

“In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name.
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,

The piece with the added lines (new lines in bold);

In the old age black was not counted fair,
“Well if you look now black beauty is everywhere”
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name
“Well if you look now you see how far black beauty came”
But now is black beauty’s successive heir
“With such elegance, dignity and full of flair”

Sonnet 127

The group took turns performing each line to a beat heavy instrumental soundtrack. The groups repeated their performance subtly changing the emphasis on arts and adapting their posture and delivery with feedback from the support staff and the interplay between make and female voices. They also tried different beats continuously adapting their delivery until they felt confident enough to do a complete performance.

During this part of the session, students became so confident that they were able to develop their own freestyle performance.

Supporting Active Learners

Students attending the workshop were selected because their teachers felt these students needed extra support to engage and inspire them to grow as active learners.

Destinations Arts champions creative ways to activley engage school students at all levels. This project is about engaging learners from all backgrounds in academic research, offering them challenging creative opportunities with a focus on giving students from families with little experience of FE and HE, a positive experience of University life.


One of the sessions outcomes was that students began to develop a deeper understanding of Shakespeare’s’ use of Iambic Pentameter, develop their confidence in a higher educational setting and raise aspirations to continue their education after school.

As part of our monitoring and evaluation strategy  we allowed asked students to use the white board spaces to write or draw or doodle their  thoughts throughout the session. The above images show a snapshot of students opinions before and after the sessions. Comments went from “boring” in the beginning to surprising and ‘interesting at the workshops conclusion; from “Long!” in the beginning to “amazing – sick!” at the workshops conclusion. Other comments included ‘freedom’, ‘dream chaser’ and makes me feel more in sync with people’

The students were also supported by a Sheffield Hallam University student trainee.  Who took images of the sessions and got involved with the performance. We also used Apple ipads extensively during the workshop; as workstations, to read lyrics from, in the performance and to document activities.

Special thanks to Ben Spiller from 1623 Theatre for introducing Sonnet 127 to the Othello Unbound project.

Special thanks to Maxine Greaves MBE, Equality and Community Engagement Business Support Manager for supporting and hosting the workshop at Sheffield Hallam University. The Othello Unbound project is funded by Arts Council England using public money and is delivered by Destinations Arts, a creative initiative that uses digital arts to engage and hard to reach communities in creative activities.