Prof. Ayvaunn Penn (Columbia University Playwriting Dean’s Fellow, Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference Finalist) is all things art and education. She is named by Playbill.com and Black Theatre Coalition as a Next Generation of Black Theatre Professionals honoree. Penn is a playwright-director and lyricist-composer passionate about theatre for social change, applied theatre, and nurturing future generations of theatre artists.
Penn’s latest play For the Love of Uvalde: A Play Inspired by the May 24, 2022 Robb Elementary School Shooting in Uvalde, TX, had its premiere public staged reading at Texas Christian University in conjunction with El Progreso Memorial Library in Uvalde, TX on January 28, 2023. The developmental presentation consisted of select songs and monologues from the show and was immediately followed by a community discussion led by a panel including a licensed counselor, a sociologist, and theatre educators and theatre professionals. This full-length theatre-for-social-change play gives voice to the frustrations of parents and loved ones of the shooting victims as well as the voices of survivors, politicians, and others who have differing views on how to put an end to gun violence. Through poetry, song, and dance, For the Love of Uvalde calls audiences to action — to put aside differences, unite, and do the work it takes to make America’s schools safe for all. For the Love of Uvalde continues development in preparation for one day having a fully staged production. Theaters and educational institutions interested in engaging their communities through production and discussion of this play should contact Penn using the contact form on this website.
Founded by Penn in the summer of 2021, Stethoscope Stage is dedicated to facilitating open and honest conversations between patients and medical care providers — both seeking truth, to be heard, and understood. Brought to life through the transformative power of live theatre, the voices of those navigating illness are amplified while the challenges and gratifications of serving in the medical field are illuminated. Hereby, Stethoscope Stage builds the essential bridge of empathy between patients and medical professionals that leads to enriched health care experiences. The festival had its official launch on April 9, 2022. It was hosted by the Texas Christian University (TCU) Theatre Department and sponsored by TCU College of Fine Arts, TCU School of Medicine, TCU School of Music, TCU Office of Diversity & Inclusion, and The Haley Family Fund for Medicine and the Arts. Click here to watch the inaugural Stethoscope Stage festival and community discussion on the theme of COVID-19.
Penn’s play, For Bo: A Play Inspired by the Murder of Botham Jean by Officer Amber Guyger, has garnered a host of national honors. It is a 2020 and 2021 finalist for the prestigious Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference; runner up for the Judith Royer Excellence in Playwriting Award presented by The Association for Theatre in Higher Education and the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival; and a quarter finalist for Third Culture Theatre’s NEXUS Festival made possible by WarnerMedia. For Bo received its first public staged reading at Texas Christian University where it was performed by Theatre TCU students, directed by Penn, and embraced by the same Dallas-Fort Worth news media that reported on Jean’s tragic murder in his Dallas apartment. This premier staged reading and community discussion of For Bo is highlighted in Texas Christian University earning the 2020 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award presented by INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine.
Penn is also the founder of The #ForBoInitiative. The latter has initiated readings and community discussions of For Bo at other arts and college institutions in Texas and out of state with the following mission: using art to keep the memory of Botham Jean alive while also addressing issues of racial bias, injustice, and police brutality against African Americans. In April 2021, Theatre TCU, The #ForBoInitiative, and The Botham Jean Foundation presented a community-illustrated virtual production of For Bo specially adapted for the screen by Penn. The screening was paired with a community discussion with Botham Jean’s mother and sister. Since April, the film adaptation of For Bo has been selected for three 2021 film festivals across the country including Silicon Valley African Film Festival (Honorable Mention), Gary International Black Film Festival, and Lone Star Film Festival (Special Screening at The Museum of Modern Art of Fort Worth). Rising to the top 11% of thousands of submissions from around the world, For Bo was also a third round finalist for the 2022 Ann Arbor Film festival — one of the few Academy Award-qualifying film festivals in the country.
With the mission of getting more of the African-American community passionate about theatre, Penn is the founder of the media platform Black and Making It (BAM-iT!) celebrating black excellence in the performing arts. Making it on the Broadway and Off-Broadway press circuit, BAM-iT! features interviews with theatre artists such as but not limited to: Tony Award-winning producer Ron Simons; two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage; Berry Gordy and the cast of Motown the Musical; and the cast of the Tony Award-winning revival of Jitney. Click here to learn more.
Penn is an Assistant Professor of Theatre. Click here to view her full theatre credits, teaching credits, and more on her CV. Click to follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.