University of South Florida

College of The Arts

University of South Florida

Meet Jenny Kokai, School of Theatre and Dance Director

Jenny Kokai, PhD

Dr. Jenny Kokai is an award-winning educator, playwright, scholar, and administrator. At her previous institution, she was awarded a Presidential Excellence Award for Teaching and she received an award for Innovative Pedagogy through the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region 8 and the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. She also received a BIG award from Institutional Research at her previous institution for design and use of assessment in curricular and programmatic decision making. She served as the Chair of the Department of Performing Arts at Weber State University, the Program Director for Theatre at WSU, and as the co-chair of the Region 8 National Playwriting Program for KCACTF.

Her work as a playwright has twice been supported with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, most recently for the play Ballet for Aliens (written with Oliver Kokai-Means and Gerard Hernandez) that is touring to over 10,000 elementary school students throughout Utah in 2022-23 with Plan-B Theatre. This project is the first play Jenny has written that explicitly involves dance and is being choreographed by the educational outreach director of Ballet West. Her play Zombie Thoughts has produced across the USA and internationally by companies including Birmingham Children’s Theatre, Riverside: The National Theatre of Parramatta, Montana Repertory Theatre. Zombie Thoughts was also turned into an app game by Riverside in Australia and that production was nominated for several major Sydney theatre awards. Her works for adults have been produced across the country and she was included in the Lark Center’s 2014 Playwright’s Week. While playwriting is her main artistic focus, she has also worked extensively as a director and a dramaturg.

As a scholar, she is recognized internationally for her work on tourism and performance, with a focus on themed and immersive entertainments. In 2017, she published the well-reviewed monograph Swim Pretty: Aquatic Spectacles and the Performance of Race, Gender, and Nature with Southern Illinois University press, and in 2019 co-edited the anthology, Performance and the Disney Theme Park Experience: The Tourist as Actor with Dr. Tom Robson of Millikin University. In addition to regularly presenting at conferences within her field and serving as one of the Program Chairs for the American Society of Theatrical Research for 2022, she has delivered a keynote address at a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark on mermaids, appeared on Radio New Zealand’s podcast series Pop! Culture, appeared in The Guardian newspaper, and recently participated in an international symposium on Future Theatre through the University of Skvode. She has published articles and essays in a variety of journals and anthologies with a number of forthcoming works spanning topics including best practices in interdisciplinary teaching, Disney studies, and the ethics of giving a performing goat cigarettes. She received her master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and her PhD from the University of Texas at Austin.