Strong Southern Roots
Anchor New President
USITT's new president, Sylvia Hillyard Pannell, has both the charm of her Southern background and the grit necessary to succeed in a world which evolved even as she interacted with it to produce change.
"I never intended to teach," said the native of West Virginia, who spent part of her childhood in Florida. After attending Florida State University for her undergraduate degree in clothing and textiles and continuing for a master of fine arts in theatre design, she took at job at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) and had a "supportive, wonderful, riveting experience."
Following a stint at the University of New Orleans, which was an invigorating working environment, especially for a costume designer, and "a heck of a lot of fun," she moved to the University of Georgia which has a very different, "more traditional" atmosphere. Her boss at both New Orleans and Georgia, Dr. August Staub, strongly advocated for the advancement of designers in educational theatre and took an especially strong stance with regard to the validity of the burgeoning MFA degree, a very forward-looking approach when Ms. Pannell started her career.
Speaking about the University of Georgia, where she is a professor and head of the design area, she noted, "I'm privileged to teach and know talented young professionals" many of whom stay in touch as they progress through their own careers. Although she does not often mention them, Ms. Pannell is proud to have received two major university awards: the Special Sandy Beaver Award for Teaching Excellence and the Creative Research Medal.
In addition to her design career, Ms. Pannell has been an active and engaged member of USITT for more than 20 years. She remembers her first conference as a member of the Board of Directors; that year her luggage was lost, so she spent the entire event in borrowed clothing. Returning to Missouri, the lost was found but, Ms. Pannell said, with a gigantic tire track across her possessions.
Other experiences were less traumatic, including participating in International Study and Prague Quadrennial tours going back to 1977 when she participated in a textile embellishment workshop in Bratislava in what was then Czechoslovakia, and continuing into the 2007 event, which will be led by Richard Durst, former President of both OISTAT and USITT.
Ms. Pannell has experience with many segments of USITT's broad constituency, an almost dizzying list. She's been a member of the Finance Committee for many years, helping guide the organization's finances; a member of the Grants & Fellowship Committee, which encourages innovative research and projects; a member and Chair of the Publications Committee; book review editor for Theatre Design & Technology; a session presenter and Co-Chair at the Annual Conference & Stage Expo; a member of the Southeast Regional Section and the Costume Design & Technology Commission; and member of the Board of Directors. She was thrilled when, in 1995, she was inducted into that august group, the Fellows of the Institute.
"We (USITT) are so unique, and represent such a nucleus of theatre in this country," she said, "that taking ourselves seriously is important." Helping commercial members and moneymaking theatres with both research and development and packaging what they have to offer is very important with USITT as a conduit and access point. Additionally, "encouraging and incorporating young professionals into USITT and our profession is a critical part of our endeavor," she noted.
When not designing, teaching, or researching (her work on Freddy Wittop was supported by USITT), she and her husband, Clifton W. Pannell, provide an ample home for Mr. Mo, the former research subject cat who has been known to grace her personalized postage stamps. Professor Pannell, a specialist in economic and urban geography with reference to modern China, recently retired as professor of geography and associate dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, which Ms. Pannell makes sure to note, is the oldest of the University of Georgia's colleges. Ms. Pannell also is pleased to have four exceptionally fine stepsons, along with their lovely wives and extremely talented children.
For more about Ms. Pannell, read her acceptance speech in this issue of Sightlines or click here.
Sylvia Hillyard Pannell accepted the gavel of office during the USITT 2006 Annual Conference & Stage Expo. She officially takes office on July 1, 2006.