A theater professor at TCU has written a play about one of the most controversial crimes in recent Texas history. Titled For Bo: A Play Inspired by the Murder of Botham Jean by Officer Amber Guyger, Ayvaunn Penn's work will be presented as a staged reading at the college on February 12 at 7 pm.
Produced by TCU's theater department and Penn's organization Black and Making It, which promotes black excellence in all art mediums and education, the play will be read entirely by students.
According to a release, For Bo uses a fictional narrative to explore "the issues that lead to Jean's death and how society grapples with the resulting trauma."
Following the play, an interdisciplinary panel of representatives from across the TCU campus and other community leaders will join the all-student cast and playwright/director Penn for a discussion to promote cross-cultural understanding.
"It is very special to have the opportunity to present this timely and socially relevant play at TCU with our talented theater majors," says Penn. "The students are excited, and I am equally excited. College is not only where students choose their careers but where they learn how to navigate the world. It is an honor to be able to demonstrate for students how theater, something we love so much, can be used not just for entertainment but as an agent for positive social change. Priceless."
On September 6, 2018, off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger entered the apartment of 26-year-old accountant Botham Jean and fatally shot him. Guyger claimed that she thought she was in her own apartment and that Jean was an intruder, and was originally arrested for manslaughter. In September of 2019, Guyger went on trial for the shooting and was convicted of murder, receiving a sentence of 10 years in prison.
"I wrote For Bo so the conversations about what led to Botham Jean's death would not die with him," Penn says. "It's one thing to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but Jean was in the right place at the right time: at home. The wrong person entered his apartment and made a horribly wrong decision. How do we keep this from happening again? These conversations must continue and lead to action if we want to see change. Hence, my launch of the #ForBo Initiative. I wrote this play in an effort to do my part to prevent anyone else from suffering the fate of Botham Jean."
According to the release, the #ForBo Initiative "aims to use the performing arts as a catalyst for positive social change by fostering conversations that heal racial divides through empathy, examining issues within the American criminal justice system, and promoting healthy relationships between all, but especially African-American civilians and police officers."
Other #ForBo Initiative participants include the University of South Carolina Aiken and KD Conservatory College of Film and Dramatic Arts.
"Upon completion of For Bo, I approached Dr. Harry Parker, head of TCU theater department, and asked for permission to organize a Black History Month staged reading and discussion," says Penn. "My vision was not merely to have a reading of the play, but bring in panelists from academia and the community to lead a discussion in which they could provide professional insight into the issues surrounding this tragic case. I feel very fortunate that departments across campus accepted my invitation to come together for this important cause. Through productive conversation comes understanding, healing, and solutions."
For Bo will be performed in Betsy and Steve Palko Hall in room 130 at TCU. The event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited, and an advanced seat reservation is required. For more information, visit theatre.tcu.edu and blackandmakingit.com.