Jayme Kilburn and students win writing awards for “Sex Acts” class

By: Julian Robison,  Department of Performing and Media Arts
April 25, 2017

A class named “Sex Acts” is sure to raise a few eyebrows, but for freshmen Ruby Que and Teagan Todd, the unconventional course helped hone their writing skills and garner awards success.

The first-year writing seminar was developed by Jayme Kilburn, a PhD student in the Department of Performing and Media Arts (PMA). Subtitled “American Drama 1950–Present,” the course explores the relationship between depictions of sex in theatre and our understanding of identity, power, and community. While building the course, Kilburn drew upon her research on feminist works and performances focusing on identity and sexuality.

“I love exposing my students to plays that they have to work a little harder to understand,” Kilburn said. Ruby Que, a PMA major, admitted that “the warm-ups that we had to do before each class were embarrassing at first, but we had so much fun doing them and it helped the class to get really comfortable with one another and bond.”

Que originally intended to major in Biology, but switched to PMA after her “transforming” experience in the class. Que received the Adelphic Award from the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, which is presented for the best essay written by a student whose native language is not English. Her essay "We Must Love One Another or Die: Larry Kramer on the Subject of Promiscuity" focused on playwright Larry Kramer’s unpopular views during the early years of the AIDS epidemic.

The assignments in the class are of mix of research essays and creative works, and for Teagan Todd, her 10-minute play “Booty Call” was among the pieces that won her the Knight Institute’s Gertrude Spencer Portfolio Award. The accolade is shared by Todd and Kilburn for creating a portfolio that showcased the development and excellence of Todd’s writing. Todd’s portfolio pieces explored a central theme of gender, with individual pieces touching on gender relations, toxic masculinity, drag culture, and the turmoil faced by gender nonconforming persons.

For Todd, the process of developing her portfolio was challenging yet rewarding: “Jayme always pushed me to improve no matter how well she thought I did on the initial drafts of a paper; she was never complacent.” Kilburn praised Todd for being a brilliant writer from the start and added, “If I were to take any credit, it would be that I tried to design essays that built upon each other and allowed space in the course for students to take risks in their writing.” Todd, an English major, is considering focusing her concentration in PMA after her experience in the class.

As for the unique name, Kilburn confessed that her committee chair Sara Warner came up with it. “She has successfully helped me trick dozens of students into taking a class that will inevitably turn them into anarchist feminists,” Kilburn said, jokingly.

Julian Robison '20 is a communications assistant for the Department of Performing and Media Arts.

Jayme Kilburn