Prof. Ayvaunn Penn (Columbia University Playwriting Dean’s Fellow, Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference Finalist) is named by Playbill.com and Black Theatre Coalition as a Next Generation of Black Theatre Professionals honoree. She is a playwright-director and lyricist-composer passionate about theatre for social change and nurturing future generations of theatre artists.
Her latest work, For Bo: A Play Inspired by the Murder of Botham Jean by Officer Amber Guyger, has garnered national honor as a 2020 and 2021 finalist for the prestigious Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. Prior to the O’Neill, 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).
Some of Penn’s other theatre credits include: directing her piece The Feather Doesn’t Fall Far from the Wing: A Play with Music featured at the Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre; directing Fabulation by Lynn Nottage at Jubilee Theatre; directing “March by June” by Juan Ramirez, Jr. in the Reset Theatre Coalition play festival hosted by Conch Shell Productions, Braata Productions, and Kumu Kahua Theatre; assistant directing the world premiere of Chasing Alice by Tom Parr IV at KD Conservatory College of Film and Dramatic Arts; serving as assistant director to two-time Tony Award-winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson on Their Eyes Were Watching God at the Billie Holiday Theatre; and serving as assistant director to Golden Globe-winner Regina Taylor on stop.reset. at the Tony Award-winning Goodman Theatre.
Before joining the Texas Christian University Theatre Department where she designed the department’s DEI course entitled Diverse Voices in Theatre, Ayvaunn taught as a guest playwriting instructor at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She has also served as a playwriting instructor for Stage West Theatre and remains a theatre instructor with Junior Players. Merging her English and Theatre degrees to create fun, educational online summer courses, Penn independently teaches Mastering Grammar Through Storytelling for elementary students and Mastering Grammar Through Script Writing for middle school students.
Outreach & Industry Connection
Lastly, with the mission of getting more of the African-American community passionate about theatre, Ayvaunn founded the media platform Black and Making It (BAM-iT!) to celebrate black excellence in the performing arts. Making it on the Broadway and Off-Broadway press circuit, BAM-iT! has featured 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.