Recently, youth from Somerville and Medford came to campus to learn about Shakespeare in a whole new way. With support from Tisch College’s Civic Engagement Fund (CEF), the student group Sankofa Youth Project hosted the teens for a workshop around Hamlet, the Hip-Hopera. Written by Tucker Delaney-Winn, A12, the play is a mix of contemporary and Elizabethan language, transforming the most iconic moments of Hamlet into hip-hop ballads and spoken-word poetry.

“We develop opportunities that engage students while presenting them information that’s beneficial for them academically or socially,” explained Keli Young, A12, one of the leaders of Sankofa. “This workshop provided us with the opportunity to do just that.”

Part of Emerging Black Leaders (EBL), Sankofa serves as a safe haven for area high school students to share their thoughts and concerns about college. Through weekly meetings on Tufts’ Medford campus, Sankofa provides youth with the tools to successfully navigate high school and college, both socially and academically, through mentoring, college preparation and workshops.

“This workshop exposed students to a different way of understanding Shakespeare’s Hamlet and helped them brainstorm other ways of incorporating their own interests with learning Shakespeare,” said Keli Young, A12, one of the leaders of Sankofa. “They were really excited about the performance and asked Tucker what they would need to do to have him perform the show at their school.”

 “I thought up the idea in my senior year of high school when I first read Hamlet,” said Delaney-Winn. “I’ve always loved hip-hop and the emotions of Hamlet’s character felt very real to me.  I thought it would be cool to translate those emotions into rap and to engage young people with Shakespeare through a totally different medium.”

Delaney-Winn, a child development major, said that his academic work has played a large role in helping him develop this work.

“Last spring I wrote part of the play for an independent study with Professor Kathleen Camara in the child development department,” Delaney-Winn explained. “She was extremely helpful in getting me to draw upon themes of adolescence, which I’d learned about in my studies at Tufts, to make this play particularly relevant to a high school audience.”

Delaney-Winn is now working with Professor Camara and Julie Dobrow, director of the Communications and Media Studies program to write a teachers guide connecting the hip-hopera with the original play. Once the guide is complete, he plans to post it and video of the play online so it can be used by teachers and students across the country.

“I’m looking forward to performing directly to a high school audience and hoping to get feedback both from them and the teachers who are present,” added Delaney-Winn, who has previously performed the play for Tufts students. “After I graduate, I’m hoping to write and produce children’s educational television and I would love to keep Hamlet, the Hip-Hopera going in any way I can.”

Watch a guerrilla performance in of Hamlet, the Hip-Hopera held last year in Dewick:










Originally published March 2012