Student Jillian Walker Brings Interdisciplinarity to the Bushwick Starr with SKINFOLK

October 25, 2016

Dramaturgy student Jillian Walker ’17 shared her play SKiNFoLK at the Bushwick Starr on Oct. 24 as part of the Starr Reading Series. Curated by William Burke, John Del Gaudio, and Columbia playwright Daaimah Mubashshir ‘15, past participants of the Series include Jackie Sibblies Drury, Erik Ehn, and Gregory S. Moss.
“The Starr Reading Series is a way for us to expand our community while we celebrate and explore the plays of the city's most exciting playwrights,” the theater’s website says. “In four seasons, we have featured the work of a diverse group of writers at all stages of their careers who are approaching writing for the theater in thrilling and unexpected ways.”
Walker’s adventurous piece fuses elements of performance art, theater, and live concerts to explore questions of self and American identity, using her own personal family history as a focal point. As a performer and singer in addition to writer, Walker engages with the audience throughout the piece, which mixes deeply personal material, songs, celebrities, and ritual to create a vulnerable space for both performer and audience members alike.

The project was born in large part out of dramaturgical questions of audience expectations and engagement that came up in the course of her studies at School of the Arts. “We were talking a lot in class about content and form. How much can you push both at the same time? And what does that do it audience?” said Walker, who is passionate about broadening audiences and disrupting the standard audience-performer relationship in the theater.
“I was interested in creating a democratized space in which people would be invited to interpret along with the performers and along with the story,” she said. “I know it’s impossible to empower another person, but I think there’s a way to awaken someone and to invite someone to feel empowered to interpret.”
These questions of audience engagement and theatrical form led Walker to the Visual Arts Program, where she enrolled in a performance class taught by video and performance artist Liz Magic Laser. Performance prompts and exercises in Laser’s class helped Walker to turn her questions into action and text, and eventually many of these assignments were folded into the work that is SKiNFoLK.
The interdisciplinary nature of Walker’s work was mirrored by her schedule at School of the Arts: immediate following Laser’s class, Walker would race across campus to one of her dramaturgy courses: Ethics and Aesthetics—a class focusing on the intersection of theatrical form and critical intention in theatre—taught by Morgan Jenness. Ultimately, SKiNFoLK was work-shopped in both classes, creating a dialogue between the two mediums and the modes in which artists in these disciplines work that informed the piece's development.
“I’ve learned my writing doesn’t really happen without other people,” Walker said. “So I feel like a lot of other people have helped me write SKiNFoLK which is cool and fun and difficult. It’s definitely forced me to grow a lot in asking other people to be involved and asking for help and all of those things that seem terrifying sometimes.”