Tanner Sherlock
Staff Writer

Taylor Penn (she/her) started her career as a ‘triple threat’ (a term referring to an actor who can also sing and dance) at a young age: she was two or three, and as she perused photos of her older cousin with her mom, she spotted a picture of her cousin performing as a cheerleader. Her mom pointed at the picture and asked: “Isn’t that pretty? Would you like to do that?” Taylor exclaimed, Yes!, was signed up for dance lessons, and her fascination only grew from there. By eight, she was getting involved in theater productions, and singing lessons came soon after.

My conversation with Penn took place on a quiet Sunday evening over a Zoom call. We were both in the middle of making dinner at our respective apartments, but found the time to talk in-between our mixing of ingredients and attending to oven-baked foodstuffs. Her upbringing seemed like a natural place to start; when I asked her what it was like, she said “nuclear.” Her parents were working a fair amount throughout her formative years — her mom as a flight attendant, and her dad running his own small business as an architect. While they tried to manage having at least one parent home with the kids at all times, it did not always work out that way. The family managed to stay close, though. Penn discussed at length about how she loved her parents and was thankful for what they provided her and her sister, whom she described as having a “strong bond” with, especially as they have matured. 

Taylor Penn holding yellow lights.Penn’s interest in the arts arrived out of a closeness with family: her mother encouraged her to start dancing at a young age, and Penn found that she loved it as soon as she began going to lessons. Gravitating towards contemporary and lyrical styles, she described the lack of formula in those forms of dance, about how enjoyable it is to have that freedom of expression. Dance lessons introduced Penn to her best friend, too, and provided a solid foundation for her next artistic conquest.

Penn’s first major experience with theater was through a friend. He was playing the lead in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and, while watching his performance, all it took was thinking to herself “I could do that!” to spark Penn’s interest in acting. Dance ended up being a major help in her new artistic pursuit; the similarities between the two art forms allowed some skills to transfer and set Penn ahead of other young actors, who had yet to perform in any significant way. Singing was a skill that came after acting but quickly enveloped Penn’s time and attention. Musicals became her jam and have stayed her jam since; riding in a car with her means receiving an impromptu lesson on musical theater.

Penn was not quite done accumulating skills in the arts, though. One final medium snuck its way into her repertoire, and would become a vital part of her skill set: writing. As with most writers, her interest began with reading. The Harry Potter books were the catalyst (and have remained a favorite of hers) since she and her mom began reading them together. Her fascination with books expanded as she became enamoured with stories that created new worlds to escape into. She began reading so much that, by the third or fourth grade, she started reading during math lessons, elevating her interest in the humanities while deterring any interest she might have had in the STEM subjects. Reading about new worlds led to an interest in fanfiction, which then led to an interest in writing, which she came to love due to that same lack of a formula that had captured her interest in other art forms.

Attending a performing arts high school near her home developed these creative interests even further. Dancing, acting, singing, and writing became everyday activities, from running an improv troupe at her school to attending musical rehearsals at her local community theater, Penn enveloped herself in her love of the arts and continued to foster that creative part of herself. Every show was a chance to exhibit her skillset to others. Whether she was playing Betty Rizzo in Grease or acting as ensemble dance captain, Penn put her heart into her performances, and earned a reputation for her dedication and ability to perform.

Attending Whittier College was the result of several different characteristics that the College held. It was a small campus, with a “big feeling,” but without a dense student population. The drive from her home in Tempe, Ariz. was a little over five and a half hours long — not too far of a trip, but not too close either. Her grandparents were a stone’s throw away in San Diego, too, so visiting them would not be out of the question. Plus, California was a nice change of scenery from Arizona, so Penn packed her bags and began her first semester of college in Fall of 2017.

A Theater-English double major seemed like a natural choice. She had loved theater since she was a kid, and writing had become an important creative outlet, so combining the two for her education seemed natural. Eventually, though, a theater major became a theater minor, and finally evaporated from her degree as she became dissatisfied with Whittier’s theater department. English stayed, though, and dance helped to satisfy her want to perform. The fact that she liked a lot of the English department professors contributed to her keeping her English major, as did the versatility that English classes allowed. Writing short stories and television scripts allowed her to further hone her writing skill, and encouraged her to create without formula in that way that she had craved for years.

When I asked about what it was like working at the QC, Taylor laughed: “It’s fun!” She came to the paper in the early days of her senior year. Having worked in the theater department as the head set painter, and without any shows to paint for, she decided to take up a job that focused on her writing-side more than her theater-side. Article and essay-writing had always been an elusive doe, though, so working as an editor seemed the better fit. The pay was decent and the work was fun, but the reason she stayed was for the people. She “loves the group of massively talented people that I work with,” and commented on the impressive amount of skill, time management, and effort that each member of the QC put into their work.

Taylor Penn in rainbow lighting.By her own admission, Penn came to Whittier “just to have a degree.” She would be the first in her family on her mother’s side, and wanted the accomplishment of graduating from college. What she ended up getting out of it, though, was something more. The thing that she truly loved about her college experience was “the people I’ve met. They’ve shaped me into a better person,” she said. She pointed to her boyfriend (full disclosure — that is me!) and her close friends as being some of the best things to arise from her time at Whittier, and recognized that even the people who she has not spoken to in a long time have been an important and life-changing force for her as a person. She hopes that people will remember her for her ability to make others laugh, whether it is through the positive outlook she tries to project or because of her klutzy tendencies.

Taylor Penn is many things: a funny friend, a detail-oriented editor, a skilled set painter, but, perhaps most impressively, she is a quadruple threat: a dancer, a writer, a singer, and an actor (in that order, by her own admission). She is an artist with a penchant for a sense of free expression in her art, a performer whose interdisciplinary mix of mediums has given her an edge in each individual art form. She is a beautiful friend and a joyful person, and has contributed to institutions all over campus. Whittier will not be the same without her, but those at the QC will be watching her move on from the campus with all of our love and support. I love you, Tay.

Featured Image: Taylor Penn / Quaker Campus

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In collaboration by Quaker Campus staff members.

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