students sitting on a stage

The play's the thing: Leadership lessons through Shakespeare

November 11, 2022


Jepson undergrads in the school’s Leadership on Stage and Screen course are adapting Shakespeare’s Othello with students from Richmond-area nonprofits St. Joseph’s Villa, Higher Achievement Binford, and Peter Paul Development Center. The organizations provide programming for teenagers from under-resourced communities. 

In the class, Kristin Bezio, leadership studies professor and director of the Jepson Shakespeare Project, connects four groups of UR students with four groups of middle and high school students. Each group learns to perform one act of their own adaptation of Othello. The groups meet weekly throughout the semester to rehearse and come together for a performance of the play in early December.

Bezio founded the project, she said, to teach Richmond students about leading those with different abilities. At the same time, students at St. Joseph’s Villa experience the work of Shakespeare in an immersive way.

Watching someone on stage suddenly find their voice, that solidifies why we do what we do.
headshot of Kristin Bezio
Kristin Bezio

“Shakespeare is meant to be accessible to everybody,” she said. “Part of taking something that's 400 years old and making it accessible means thinking about who's doing it and letting them make it their own. And giving the kids that we're working with and my students the opportunity to have ownership over that is really powerful.”

Oona Elovaara, a senior leadership studies major minoring in theatre studies, has been looking forward to taking this course since her first year on campus.

“We've had an amazing experience,” Elovaara said. “The kids are wonderful. I think the biggest thing has been making sure that everyone is comfortable. Making sure as leaders we are taking into consideration their feelings, their comfort levels, and their abilities.”

Her biggest takeaway from the course, she said, is the chance to connect with the broader Richmond community and help students in need.

“It is really important when you do any sort of community outreach, that it has a lasting impact,” Elovaara said. “We have become part of this community, and this is hopefully something that the students are going to remember forever.”

Bezio, who has overseen the program for nearly 10 years, explained that when it comes down to showtime, the lasting impact on the students on stage shines through.

“Watching them suddenly realize this is theirs, and they can do it, watching someone on stage suddenly find their voice, that solidifies why we do what we do,” Bezio said.