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Life In The Spotlight

From the lights of Hollywood to Broadway stages, Shannan Johnson ’04 has experienced a cross-country career while building the first Black-owned script consulting agency.

By Bec Morris ’23

Johnson performs on stage.

Shannan Johnson ’04 has worked both on and off stage in the entertainment industry, pursuing her career from coast-to-coast and across the ocean.

Having visited 19 countries and 48 states, Shannan Johnson ’04 knows the entertainment world like the back of her hand. As a screenwriter, creative development executive, actor, dancer and script consultant, Johnson has always been destined for Hollywood, even off-stage.

Her journey began in third grade, when a creative writing assignment sparked a love of writing that would lead her to the big screen.

“I spent an entire page describing a blade of grass and my teacher, Mrs. Jones, said to me, ‘You should be a writer,’ Johnson recalled. “Of course, when you’re that age, if your teacher says you can do something, you believe it.”

Taking Center Stage
After attending Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Houston, Johnson arrived in Aggieland as a Century Scholar majoring in English and journalism. She was interning at the research magazine Pathways to Discovery when she discovered a career path destined for her.

“While I was interning there, my mother sent me an article about a Black female TV writer,” Johnson said. “My mind was blown, because this whole time I only wanted to be an author because I wanted to get books produced into movies. I didn’t even know that screenwriters existed.”

With this new goal and applications pending at film schools across the country, Johnson packed up after graduation and traveled to Los Angeles, where she interned for “Dr. Phil,” ABC, Cubevision and more. Upon her acceptance to the Florida State University film program, Johnson left the bright lights of Hollywood and directed her passion toward script editing.

“I could always give people great notes to improve their writing,” Johnson said. “So, when I graduated, instead of trying to become a writer, I decided to go into development, which is the process of taking ideas from pitch to production.”

Shannon Johnson poses in a stage costume.

In the musical “Amazing Grace,” Johnson portrayed Princess Peyai, an African royal.

Despite being new to the field, Johnson found a job back in California as a creative executive for the Syfy Channel Entertainment Associates Program, handling script selection, branding and marketing.

“Becoming a development executive is coveted, but I didn’t know that at the time. Coming directly out of graduate school, I didn’t have the pressure on my shoulders like people in Los Angeles did,” Johnson explained. “After a long and slow learning curve, I was living my dream.”

Being behind the scenes was a great fit for the young development executive, but an on-stage opportunity soon presented itself: Step Afrika!, an international South African dance company, was holding auditions and she decided to take the leap into the spotlight. “Once I started dancing, I knew I couldn’t go back to a desk,” Johnson fondly remembered.

For the next eight years, Johnson participated in two dance companies and multiple Broadway national tours, even performing in Aggieland twice.

Script To Screen
Upon her retirement from the stage in 2018, Johnson once again returned to the City of Angels, where she founded the first Black-owned script consulting agency, The Professional Pen. As a consultant, she helps writers develop their ideas into workable scripts ready for production.

“I want to be a bridge for people who are trying to understand how to get into Hollywood. Since I’ve been on the inside, I have the code, and I want to share it,” she said. “I’m hoping to continue developing creatives and helping them get their ideas on screen. My biggest goal is to secure a deal with a studio so I can create some of my own ideas, but also help others turn theirs into reality.”

Johnson is also bringing her own ideas to life with “Truffle Sauce,” a short film written and executive produced by her about a sample lady who sells truffle sauce inside of a pharmacy. The movie will be filmed in Houston, featuring Texas actors and off-screen talents in hopes of bringing more exposure to the more than 29 million residents of the state.

“I was a little girl who wanted to be a writer but didn’t even know screenwriting existed. It didn’t mean I didn’t have the talent; I just didn’t have the exposure,” Johnson recalled. “It’s important to me to bring that opportunity for exposure to Texas. There are plenty of talented people in Texas, so why shouldn’t they get their shot? I just want to be one of those people who can offer the opportunity.”

Celebrating Community 

Students and former students pose for a photo in front of the Aggie ring statue at the Association of Former Students.

In her work and free time, Johnson promotes opportunities for underrepresented people to network and unlock their own creative potential.

Johnson’s legacy in Aggieland includes two unique activities. As a freshman, she started a competition cheer squad at Texas A&M so she could stay active and make friends. Approved in fall 2001, the Texas A&M Cheer Squad is now a Recreation Sport Club and attends competitions against other universities throughout the school year. The elite team holds back-to-back national championship titles from 2018 and 2019.

Additionally, in 2010, after being contacted by friends about organizing a reunion, Johnson decided to bolster the Black community at Texas A&M through an annual gathering: The Aggie Big Kick It.

The Aggie Big Kick It offers a space specifically for Black Aggies, who have a unique experience on campus, Johnson said. “I think it’s important for Black students who are currently on campus to see people who look like them who made it through and are now successful. This event shows prospective students that there are people like them here. They won’t be alone if they come to Texas A&M, and they will have a safe space.”

While Johnson is currently taking a break from organizing The Aggie Big Kick It, she hopes a young graduate can continue to promote camaraderie among future, current and former Black students.

Originally published here by the Texas A&M Foundation.