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School kids reimagine Beowulf as computer game and live performance



1 October 2015

Students ready a dragon puppet for their adaptation of Beowulf. Photographer: David Cameron.
Students ready a dragon puppet for their adaptation of Beowulf. Photographer: David Cameron.

Beowulf has inspired film and TV adaptations and a translation by a Nobel Laureate, and now Sydney school kids are turning the ancient poem into a computer game and live puppetry performance at the University of Sydney.

Students in years seven to nine have spent their school holidays learning coding, puppetry and live performance at a Beowulf workshop run with the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP).

Playing Beowulf is an international research collaboration with the University of London and the British Library, which encourages creativity in students through experimental drama and storytelling.

"Kids need to do more than know how to code - they need to know what coding can make,” said Professor Michael Anderson, leader of the University of Sydney project. “Playing Beowulf shows them how coding can bring a classic text to life.

"It's wonderful to see Beowulf come alive in the hands of these young people. Their ability to make online and offline has been very exciting and shows that old texts can have new audiences if approached in creative ways.”

Considered a masterpiece of Anglo-Saxon literature, Beowulf sees its eponymous hero battle a monster called Grendel in a seemingly ready-made plotline for fans of open-world computer games such as Minecraft.

"A workshop like this puts kids in the position of being the producers of a story instead of the consumers, which is a change for many. Using puppetry and game-making, they have been given authorship over the story of Beowulf,” said Howard Matthew, digital artist and workshop facilitator for ATYP.

The students’ puppet-making and game-making efforts will culminate in a live performance at the University of Sydney on October 2 and their Beowulf games will be shown at the British Library in December.

Playing Beowulf is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in Britain.

Media enquiries: Luke O’Neill: (02) 9114 1961; 0481 012 600; luke.oneill@sydney.edu.au