Jillian Walker's THE WHITNEY ALBUM Premieres at Soho Rep in May

Performances take place May 24 - July 2, with an official opening on Tuesday, June 6.

By: Apr. 12, 2023
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Jillian Walker's THE WHITNEY ALBUM Premieres at Soho Rep in May

Soho Rep presents the world premiere of multidisciplinary theater-maker and "imaginary historian" Jillian Walker's The Whitney Album, a meditation on the artist's relationship to Whitney Houston's work and personal life, and perceptions of both in the American imagination. The production concludes a 2022-23 Soho Rep season consisting entirely of works commissioned by the organization. Performances take place May 24 - July 2, with an official opening on Tuesday, June 6.

The production's cast features Portia (STEW, To Kill A Mockingbird), Jillian Walker (SKiNFoLK: An American Show), Stephanie Weeks (SKiNFoLK: An American Show, Mourning Becomes Electra), and Ben Jalosa Williams (Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge, Pathetic).

The creative team, also announced today, includes Set Designer Peiyi Wong (Weightless, A Delicate Balance), Costume Designer Jojo Siu (North, Caucasian Chalk Circle), Lighting Designer Oona Curley (Dark Disabled Stories, The Appointment), Sound Designer Ben Jalosa Williams (The Terrifying, Gatz), and Dramaturg/Archivist abigail jean-baptiste ('Bov Water, the salt women). shiku thuo is the Production Stage Manager.

The Whitney Album continues a deep relationship between Soho Rep and Jillian Walker, who was one of eight artists in the inaugural, 2020-21 cohort of Soho Rep's Project Number One. Through the program, originally created to address a pivotal moment for the American theater, amid COVID-19 closures and record unemployment in the field, the organization gives theater-makers staff positions, with salaries and benefits. Walker developed The Orange Essays, which she presented on Instagram Live in the summer of 2021 and can be heard here.

The Whitney Album follows Walker's 2019 work SKiNFoLK: An American Show, a sweeping concert/play co-produced by the National Black Theater and the Bushwick Starr that retold Walker's family history and explored her identity, heritage and legacy as a Black woman in this America. In a Critic's Pick review for The New York Times, Jose Solís called SKiNFoLK "transcendent," writing that the work retold "Walker's family history-and by extension, the history of America-in the hopes of reclaiming the joys of blackness in all its complexity," and noting that "Walker layers dialogue and songs so that the two engage in a multipurpose dance, filled with both conviction and questioning." 53rd State Press will publish Walker's SKiNFoLK: An American Show book on July 25, 2023.

Jillian Walker / Gogo / Makhosi Yemah, is a multidimensional artist and Sangoma Priestess. She is the creator of the critically-acclaimed, SKiNFoLK: An American Show (NY Times Critics Pick, Kilroys List, Lilly Award) forthcoming from 53rd State Press, Songs of Speculation (2020 Third Coast Audio Unbound Award), Sarah's Salt.(Relentless Award honorable mention), and star, screenwriter/co-conceiver of the upcoming experimental documentary, BLK GRK (or, hiding in plain sight) with Eric Berryman, directed by Rachel Chavkin.

In her on- and off-stage practice, Jillian guides spiritual warriors, scholarly mystics, and culture alchemists in divinatory containers that focus on ancestral acknowledgment x multidimensional healing.

From a heartspace of radical generosity and the liberation of process as the purpose (MFA Dramaturgy, Columbia University), she incites and inspires sublime new forms of art, structures, and communal systems that break the boundaries of the colonial imagination.

Visit the online archive of her work at The Ocean Archives.

Jenny Koons is a director and organizer. Projects: Regretfully, So the Birds Are (Playwrights Horizons / WP Theater), Oedipus (Deaf West Theatre), Head Over Heels (Pasadena Playhouse with Sam Pinkleton), Hurricane Diane (Huntington Theatre), Now Becomes Then (Actors Theatre of Louisville), Men on Boats (Baltimore Center Stage), Speechless (New Blue Man Group North American Tour), The Tempest (The Juilliard School), Between Us: The Deck of Cards (Denver Center for the Performing Arts), A Midsummer Night's Dream (The Public Theater Mobile Unit), Burn All Night (American Repertory Theatre), Theatre for One: In This Moment (Pershing Square Signature Center), Gimme Shelter (Why Not Theatre, Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games commission), Theatre for One: I'm Not the Stranger You Think I Am (Arts Brookfield), A Sucker Emcee (National Black Theatre, LAByrinth Theater Company, SPKRBOX Festival, Norway), Queen of the Night (Diamond Horseshoe Nightclub, Drama Desk Award), The Odyssey Project 2012 (site-specific NYC). Koons was a 2021 Vision Resident at Ars Nova and has developed new work at Steppenwolf, Roundabout, and New Black Fest, among others. She was the 2017 curator of New York City Center's Encores! Off-Center Lobby Project, co-curator of the 2016 Toronto ThisGen Conference, and co-founder of Artists 4 Change NYC (National Black Theatre). She is a Lilly Award recipient and proud member of the SDC.

About the Cast

Portia (she/her). Credits include To Kill A Mockingbird (Broadway), Stew (Page 73, Pulitzer finalist), The Rose Tattoo (Broadway), Rinse, Repeat (Pershing Square Signature Center), Ruined (MTC/Geffen Playhouse), McReele (Roundabout Theatre Company), and Our Lady of 121st Street and In Arabia We'd All Be Kings at LAByrinth Theatre Company.. Regional: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Pittsburgh Public Theater), Celebrating the Black Radical Imagination/don't get got and Artney Jackson (Williamstown Theatre Festival), Sweat (Mark Taper), Fences (Long Wharf & McCarter Theater), Our Town (Ford's Theatre). Film: Lapsis, All The Little Things We Kill, Skin, From Nowhere, St. Vincent, The Greatest, The Messenger, Please Give. Television: Diarra From Detroit, New Amsterdam, Big Dogs, Madam Secretary, Bull, She's Gotta Have It, The Blacklist.

Jillian Walker (she/her). See above.

Stephanie Weeks (she/her) is an award-winning actor and director. She has performed at theaters including The Public, Playwrights Horizons, Soho Rep, and La Jolla Playhouse. As an Associate Artist With Target Margin Theater, was awarded the OBIE for Recognition of Artistic Achievement and Commitment to Excellence in Theater. Weeks starred in the film Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted-Mutha, directed by Melvin Van Peebles (Tribeca Film Festival). Television credits include Tales of The City, starring Laura Linney (Netflix), The Good Fight (CBS), and Law & Order (NBC). She has voiced numerous audio books and is a 2023 Audie Award Award nominee for Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah. She holds an MFA from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and has a certificate of study from London Academy of Music and Drama.

Ben Jalosa Williams (he/him) is an actor, sound designer, and director based in New York City. He has worked in experimental theater for 20 years. He is a member of Elevator Repair Service and a founding member of Minor Theater with Julia Jarcho. Awards for sound design: OBIE, Lucille Lortel, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, and the inaugural Third Coast International Audio Festival "Audio Unbound" Award. Ben produces and curates category : other, an award-winning platform for experimental audio. He freelances as an audio consultant-for clients including the NBA, StoryCorps, and Harvard-and teaches sound design at The New School.

About the Creative Team

Peiyi Wong (she/her, Set Designer) is a Bessie Award-winning scenographer and interdisciplinary artist. Based in Brooklyn, NY, she designs sets, installations, and costumes for performance and film. Recent scenic design credits include Weightless (WP Theater), A Delicate Balance (Transport Group | NAATCO), The Vicksburg Project (Mabou Mines), SPEECH (Lightning Rod Special), HOUSECONCERT (Object Collection), Song About Trains (Working Theater | Radical Evolution), Memoirs of a...Unicorn (NYLA, 2018 Bessie Outstanding Design). Wong was Set and Costume Designer for A Hunger Artist (Sinking Ship), The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (Transport Group), MukhAgni (The Public UTR), TiQ: The Seventh Voyage (Sinking Ship), and All the Different Ways Commodore Matthew Perry Could Have Died But Didn't (New Georges). She was Costume Designer for Namour (ARRAY feature film, Netflix). In 2023, her design work received support from the Edith Lutyens & Bel Geddes Design Enhancement Fund and NYSCA Support for Artists Grant. Faculty at Playwrights Horizons Theater School, NYU Tisch. MFA: CalArts.

Jojo Siu (she/her, Costume Designer). Jojo Siu's work spans film, opera, theater, and dance. She is an advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion, and values storytelling above all else. Her work includes North; The Trial of Dedan, Kimathi; Hello, Goodbye and Caucasian Chalk Circle (Singapore Repertory Theatre); The Madres (Skylight Theater); Sanctuary City (Pasadena Playhouse); Oedipus (Deaf West); King of the Yees, Joy Luck Club (Sierra Madre Playhouse); The Ferryman, Desert Rock Garden, and Intimate Apparel (New Village Arts); Mad Madge (Counterbalance Theatre); Into the Woods (Maui Performing Arts Center); Fun Home (Perseverance Theater); Kim's Convenience (Laguna Playhouse); A Grand Night for Singing (Musical Theater West); Striking 12 (Chance Theatre), Kvetcher in the Wry, Celtic Knot, Night Moths on the Wing (O.C. Centric New Play Festival); The Tempest (OC Shakespeare Festival), In the Heights, Spring Awakening, Bright Star, Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (Fullerton College); and Native Gardens and Vinegar Tom (Chapman University).

Oona Curley (they/them, Lighting Designer) is a lighting and scenic designer. Frequent and favorite collaborators include Knud Adams, Tara Ahmadinejad, John Anselmo+Crew, Ngozi Anyanwu, Jason Ardizzone-West, Alex Bechtel, Eliza Bent, Liza Birkenmeier, Montana Levi Blanco, Oana Botez, Martha Graham Cracker, Will Davis, Machine Dazzle, Stacey Derosier, Jordan Fein, Loretta Greco, Morgan Green, Emma Griffin, Trish Harnetiaux, Sam Helfrich, Ásta Bennie Hostetter, John Jarboe, Qween Jean, Jenn Kidwell, Jes Levine, Taibi Magar, Peter Mills Weiss, Gunnar Montana, Stowe Nelson, Kimie Nishikawa, Meredith Ries, James Rutherford, Scott R. Sheppard, Stoli Stolnack, Mikaal Sulaimaan, Ashley Teague, Awoye Timpo, Annie Tippe, Alex Torra, Masha Tsimring, Mfoniso Udofia, Whitney White, Jenna Worsham, and Alice Yorke. Oona is a company member of Lightning Rod Special (creators of Underground Railroad Game and The Appointment), an Associate Artist with Bearded Ladies Cabaret, and a member of USA829. MFA: NYU/Tisch.

Ben Jalosa Williams (he/him, Sound Designer). See above.

abigail jean-baptiste (any/all pronouns, Dramaturg/Archivist) is a theater-maker, director, and writer born and based in New York City, with familial roots in Haiti and the American South. Guided by questions about blackness and femininity and kinship, her work uses images, fragmented language, repeatable gestures, and tangible objects in a search to build unconventional and nonsensical ways of being. Currently: I Am Soul Directing Residency at National Black Theater and The New Georges Jam. Past directing projects include Angela Davis's School For Girls with Big Eyes by Thalia Sablon (Rutgers School of the Arts), The House That Will Not Stand (Le Petit Theatre in New Orleans), The Story of A Circle by David Ryan Smith (Soho Rep), and the salt women by Audley Puglisi (Playwrights Realm, INK'D). Jean-Baptiste was a Soho Rep Project Number One artist, a member of Roundabout Theater Directors Group, part of the Bushwick Starr Reading Series, and Resident Lead Artist at The Mercury Store. Jean-Baptiste has worked as associate/assistant director to Lileana Blain-Cruz, Saheem Ali, Diane Paulus, Sam Gold, and John Doyle. In 2020, Playbill featured her as one of the "Powerhouse Women Directors Theatre Fans and Industry Pros Alike Need to Know.". Most recently, she directed 'Bov Water by Celeste Jennings at Northern Stage, workshopped The Womb Abyss with Nicole Acheampong, and associate-directed Create Dangerously by Lileana Blain-Cruz at Miami New Drama. She is a 2018 Lilly Award winner and New Georges Affiliated Artist. B.A.: Princeton University.

shiku thuo (any pronouns said with respect, Production Stage Manager) is a stage manager, actor, and director hailing from Southern California and taking residency in New York. Their most recent works include On that Day in Amsterdam (Primary Stages), Confederates (Signature), Thoughts of a Colored Man (SM Fellow) The Latrell Show (PSM - IAMA Theater), The Shipment (Director).

Jillian Walker's THE WHITNEY ALBUM Premieres at Soho Rep in May


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