Barry Wallace just wants to make people happy

Beth KinnaneKarns/Hardin Valley, Our Town Leaders

When Barry Wallace first started at UT back in the fall of 1984, his plan was to major in computer science. Though a fledgling wiz at learning computer languages and programing, he ran into an obstacle that many a student faces on their journey through the college: the class that weeds them out.


“When I first started, we were only a couple of years past punch cards,” Wallace said. “We were finally using keyboards. Personal computers were just beginning to make their way into the public eye. We were finally in early keyboard programming.”

Barry Wallace

The programming was the part that piqued his interest. The part he wasn’t so interested in was the actual engineering aspect of the major at the time.

“One of the classes I took was an electrical engineering class about circuits and how to put a circuit board together,” Wallace said. “I was lucky to pass the class, but that was enough to know this wasn’t the future and the career for me. The programming I could grasp, because it was creative. You write lines of code, the codes relate to each other, there’s an elegance to it.”

Basically, as a devoted Star Wars fan, he could program R2D2 to perform, but don’t expect Wallace to build him. With the computer science degree set aside, he logically switched his major to theatre. It’s the stuff of parental nightmares.

Wallace currently lives in Hardin Valley with his wife, Laura, and has two grown children. He grew up in Fountain City and graduated from Central High School in 1984. All through his school years he played in the band and sang in the chorus (was also a member of Bobcat Company), but never considered pursuing music professionally. A taste of the footlights in drama classes spurred a love of the stage.

“Theatre has so many components to it, it’s not just acting,” he said. “There’s the directing part of it, all of the technical stage craft, sometimes there’s the music element, and you can use that medium to tell stories. While I don’t think it was something that I was tapped into consciously, storytelling has always been a part of everything that I enjoy.”

In the years since graduating from UT, Wallace still made a career out of his early forays into computer programming, jumping into web design and becoming a webmaster. See kids, you don’t necessarily have to have the degree to just do the thing anyway. Since 2018, he’s been a digital communications specialist at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.

He never walked away from the computers, and, likewise, never walked away from theatre, either. He’s that lucky person who enjoys what he does for a living with his marketable skill, but still keeps his feet in the creative world that he loves.

Wallace is currently directing Suite Surrender for Theatre Knoxville Downtown (there are four shows left, go here for tickets). He even wrote two original songs for it. Last month, he joined the Tennessee Valley Players for their final performance at the Carousel Theatre playing Brother Jeremiah in Something Rotten. He’s worked with practically every local theatre company as an actor, director or musical director.

Recently, Wallace submitted a one act play, Black Balloons, to a Hive Collaborative competition in Utah. It was selected for production and it won four awards, including best screenplay. You can watch it here.

Wallace brings a refreshing lack of ego to his artistic endeavors, which makes sense for a man who also loves Disney, Star Trek, whose favorite song is Rainbow Connection and is generally unimpressed with anti-hero plotlines.

“It’s never been about anything that points the finger to me,” he said. “I don’t mind having credit, but the production is the important thing. What can I do to make this two-hour span of time as enjoyable as possible? Whether an audience of one or 1,000, I just want to make people happy. That’s what gives me gratification.”

Beth Kinnane is the community news editor for KnoxTNToday.com.

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