Features Writer: Savannah Phillips
In 1988, Barbara Pann, a young, energetic professor at Georgetown
(Ky.) College, boarded a flight from Louisville to Charlotte for a job
interview at what was then Wingate College. The dean at Georgetown
had offered up her name when Wingate came calling about
recommendations for an opening it had for a full-time professor to teach
That was the beginning of the 34 years she has spent here teaching and
inspiring Department of Communication students and, perhaps more
importantly, being a relentless advocate for theatre on campus and in
Union County. Her mentor at Wingate was longtime former
Communication colleague Larry Coleman, another professor with a
passion for theatre who owned an infectious personality like Pann’s.
“He cast a very big shadow,” Pann said of Coleman, who spent 28 years
teaching at Wingate while also serving as director of the WU Theatre
and the Batte Center. “No one in this lifetime will ever be able to fill Larry
There has never been a formal academic theatre program at Wingate,
but in many ways Pann seems to have become the voice and spirit of
theatre after the passing of Coleman at age 69 in 2018. She even
resides in his former office on the first floor of the Neu Building.
As the torch was passed, Pann inherited a few remaining blocks that
Coleman had collected from Laney Hall, a former theatre building on campus located where the Wellspring is now that was torn down due to
its foundation sinking in. Without a replacement building, Pann was left
to use Austin Auditorium when available for Wingate’s theatre activities
and to store the club’s props and sets.
Pann has been trying to inspire change for years now at the university by
being outspoken about the need for a greater emphasis on theatre at
Wingate. Despite her outspoken advocacy of the arts here, acting and
theatre have steadily been held at club status, like it was under
“Arts add a great deal of quality to life,” Pann said. “You think deeper and
more profoundly [when exposed to the arts]. Wingate needs theatre for
the same reason that the world needs theatre: art, empathy and
For someone who says she is “burning the candle at both ends,” Pann is
doing it exceedingly well. She has a true passion for what she teaches,
whether it be improvisational theatre or public speaking, and sometimes
that makes all the difference for her students, who feed off her passion.
Pann believes that theatre is accepting of everyone. No matter what your
skill sets are, you will have a place in theatre, Pann says.
Before coming to Wingate, she received her undergraduate degree in
psychology of business communication from Georgetown College and
earned her master’s degree in public relations at Morehead State
“Looking back, I see that I stayed on the perimeter of theatre for a long
time,” Pann recalled. “For some reason, I never gave myself permission
to go all-in. It’s kind of exciting to step forward a little bit.”
This year, she has made a very big step forward in assuming leadership
of the Department of Communication, taking over for former chair Dr.
Ralph Frasca, who unexpectedly retired a day before classes began this
semester. “I understand it will be temporary and I’m OK with that,” she
The department itself seems to be her rock. “My immediate colleagues in
the Communication Department have been an unimaginably good group.
They are the most dependable, thoughtful people that I could name.”
Despite her many new responsibilities as department chair, Pann says
she will not lose sight of what truly drives her during her remaining years
at Wingate: having theatre take its rightful place—and space—on