The theatrical finale of Professor James Panowski

Scott Viau

For 32 years, Dr. James Panowski, or Dr. P, as he’s affectionately referred to by students and faculty members alike, has been the director of the Forest Roberts Theatre (FRT), sharing his knowledge and craft with any who want to learn.

Panowski was the recipient of the NMU Distinguished Faculty Award in 1994, and in 1993 endowed the annual playwriting award in honor of his parents.

With retirement looming at the end of the semester, Panowski is optimistic about what the future may hold for him. He is excited at the prospect of finishing work that he has been too busy for in the past, including a book he hopes to write.

“I interviewed stage doormen in New York. I just haven’t had time to sit down and write the damn book. (Retirement) will provide me with no excuses not to do it,” he said.

After more than three decades of work, Panowski is not burned out, but feels that the time has come for him to pass the torch on to someone else. He leaves a little advice behind:

“Learn how to multi-task, catch up on your sleep as often as you can and I think you’ve got to be proud of the FRT program,” Panowski said. “It will frustrate you, it will burn you out, but you know what? You never get bored.”

Professor Shelley Russell, who also serves as the faculty supervisor for the FRT’s costume shop, had nothing but fond memories and kind words for Panowski and said she will be sad to see him leave.

“Everyone who loves Dr. P loves his laugh,” Russell said. “We all mimic it and we are very used to hearing it. I think I’ll miss that laugh very, very much.”

Russell elaborated on her relationship with Panowski, saying the running joke is that they have been married for 26 years due to the fact they’ve worked so closely.

Panowski and Russell have fought over artistic questions and have worked together as artists and colleagues for a very long time, she said.

“I can’t quite imagine the Forest Roberts Theatre without him,” she said.

President Wong said Panowski represents the many NMU faculty and staff members who have dedicated literally decades of their lives to creating the best NMU student experience possible.

“It is always difficult to see those so dedicated to students and the learning process leave the university,” Wong said. “We wish Dr. P well in his retirement.”