Two Alumni 2020 Finalist for Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference

BY Felix van Kann, June 17, 2020

Alumna Ayvaunn Penn '18 (left) and Alumnus and Staff member Clarence Coo '10 (right)

Theatre Alumna Ayvaunn Penn '18 and Alumnus and Staff member Clarence Coo '10 have been named finalists for the 2020 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference for new play development. Their work was selected from more than 1500 submissions to the group of 63 finalists. The six to eight winners will workshop their scripts during summer on the O’Neill’s campus in Waterford, CT.   


Penn’s fictional narrative For Bo: A Play Inspired by the Murder of Botham Jean by Officer Amber Guyger unpacks the unfortunate tragedy that befalls the Jones family when brother and son Bo Jones is murdered in his own home by police officer Amy Guy. Through contemporary free verse poetry, rhythm, and percussion this play explores the issues leading to Bo Jones’ death and how society, particularly the black community, grapples with the resulting trauma through social media. Penn also launched the national #ForBo Initiative in which universities and organizations across the country have participated. 


Coo’s play, Chapters of a Floating Life, takes place during the Second World War. Two couples from China are trying to make ends meet in New York City. One husband and wife live uptown, obsessed with a past of poetry, painting, and gardens. The other two face the day-to-day reality of keeping a Chinatown restaurant in business. Their worlds, once separated by class and education, converge when the two women find each other in Central Park and fall under the spell of the Chinese language.


Founded in 1964, the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center is an opportunity for playwrights to work with professionals. “Each play is matched with a team of industry-leading directors, dramaturgs, and actors for an intensive 30-hour rehearsal period, culminating in two public, script-in-hand staged readings. At every step in the process, the O’Neill strives to foster an inclusive, collaborative environment in which artistic exploration and experimentation is encouraged.”


Ayvaunn Penn, founder of the national #ForBo Initiative, is a graduate of the Playwriting Program at Columbia University where she had the honor of being the School of the Arts Dean’s Fellowship recipient for the playwriting class of 2018. She is also a lyricist, composer, and director. Most recently, she made her directorial debut at the Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre and has served as assistant director to two-time Tony Award-winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson at the Billie Holiday Theatre and Golden Globe winner Regina Taylor at the Tony Award-winning Goodman Theatre. Prior to attending Columbia University, she earned a Master of Arts in Theatre with a double concentration in acting and playwriting from Louisiana Tech University. Her undergraduate degree was completed at Austin College with a Bachelor of Arts in English. In addition to being the founder of Black And Making It, which features black artists in theatre, Penn is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation 2017-2018 Observership Class, an inductee of Alpha Psi Omega National Theatre Honor Society, and a member of the Dramatist Guild of America. Lastly, Penn is the author of Ephemeral Moments, a book of poetry and short stories exploring issues such as domestic abuse, struggles of faith, and contemporary love.


Clarence Coo is a recipient of a 2017 Whiting Award and the 2012 Yale Drama Series Prize. His plays include The Birds of Empathy, Beautiful Province (Belle Province), People Sitting in Darkness, and The God of Wine. His work has been developed at the Atlantic Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, New York Theatre Workshop, and the Bay Area Playwrights Festival. He has received fellowships from the Dramatists Guild, the Rita Goldberg Playwrights Workshop at the Lark, NYFA, and the Playwrights Realm. He received his MFA in Playwriting at Columbia University. Currently, he is a resident playwright at New Dramatists, a member of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab, and the assistant director of academic administration of Columbia’s MFA Writing Program.