Features Editor: Savannah Phillips
Professor Barbara Pann, interim chair of Wingate University’s Department
of Communication, reminds one of the quirky and beloved children’s book
series “Junie B. Jones.” Entering her office, you find Pann in her rolly chair,
bare feet arched like a child’s when they lean over a desk at school.
She ushers a visitor to sit in her flowered, lumpy chair that makes you
bounce a little on impact. Looking around, as if for the first time, one
realizes that her office is like a madhouse of sweet reminders and “feel-
good” colors that make you feel warm inside.
You may not be surprised to find that of all the plays she could have chosen,
Pann decided on Allison Gregory’s “Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook” for this
year’s theatre production at Wingate. “It sort of fell into my lap,” said Pann,
“and I’m very grateful to have the opportunity.”
Horror and excitement, as Pann explained, accompanied the news. This is
only her second time directing a play at Wingate, with the first being last
year’s “Murder is a Fine Art.” Though it had all the elements of a play
(memorized lines, dedicated cast, no improv), it was performed in the
rotunda of the Batte Center.
This year, however, the April 21-22 production will move to the stage in
Austin Auditorium. The last full stage production at Wingate by the
Department of Communication took place in 2007 when the late Dr. Larry
Coleman, the “one-man band” of WU theatre who passed away at age 69 in
2018, was the director.
The mention of his name seems to rub on an old, tender wound in Pann.
When asked what the longtime Wingate educator meant to her, Pann rose
from her chair and walked over to a dusty bookshelf in her office. There, on
the very top, she pulled down a pair of furry, wolf feet bedroom slippers.
“These were Larry’s,” she said, smiling with glossy eyes. “What did he mean to me? He means everything to me,” she concluded, holding the oversized
Pann seems to embody Coleman’s spirit, fun-loving personality and passion
“She is a perfect example of what it is like to be passionate about
something, and acting on it,” said Darius Johnson, the student assistant
director for Junie B. Jones. “She saw things in me that it took me a minute
to understand. Without people such as herself, success remains only a
dream due to the fear of inadequacy.”
While theatre is a work-in-progress at Wingate and will take time to
establish, she refuses to give up. Her perseverance and determination to
give students this creative outlet is inspiring.
But sometimes, what matters the most is the changes we make in the lives
of others. Though Pann may not be the “one-man band” that Coleman was,
she has her own unique team of dedicated crew members. Nearly 20
Wingate students, with the great possibility of more, are involved in the
production. There are eight actors/actresses, some of whom, including
Johnson, play multiple roles. Pann chose this play not just for sentimental
reasons, but for the minimal set and flexible casting options.
She and Johnson have been faced with losing many cast members due to
their prior obligations. “They can’t be all things to all people,” Pann said,
remembering what it was like to be in college.
The Department of Communication has been supportive in her endeavors
and is helping her any way they can, from technical theatre to publicity to
the filming of the shows. Along with the showtimes set for the public to
watch the play for free—April 21 at 7 p.m. and April 22 at 2 p.m. Pann
decided to add additional performances for elementary schools in the area.
The response from the area schools has been overwhelming, she said, as
more than 1,300 Union County children are expected to see 10 a.m. shows
on April 20 and April 21.
“I can’t wait to hear the giggles of those children,” Pann said.
Though the play is nearly three weeks out from the production and not
where Pann wants it to be, she has full faith that her cast and crew will get
“It’s not time to be ready,” Pann said, half joking. “I hope that what we do
will honor him [Coleman] and his legacy.”
You get chills, because she makes that declaration sitting in same office that
used to be Coleman’s.