Picture someone gaining a lifetime of experience in a given field. Now picture that person transitioning to nurturing and give that knowledge to a younger generation so that they can one day achieve their dreams. This person is Arthur M. Reese and that position is technical director of N.C. Central University’s theater department.
For 22 years, Reese was technical director for the National Black Theater Festival, held every two years in Winston-Salem.
Some colleagues describe Arthur Maxwell Reese, 56, as the heart of the theater department.
He didn’t earn that reputation overnight, though. It all began at Mauldin High School in Greenville County, S.C.
“I was a drama fanatic,” Reese said. “I knew I liked doing lighting in high school. I used my time there to get better at my craft, and as I got better I became even more interested in it.”
“Then I went from there to Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina to get my bachelor’s degree in technical theater. Then I went to the University of Virginia, where I went on to be the only African-American person on the planet to get a degree in fine arts and theatrical design from that school.”
“He is very hardworking, very creative, and very dedicated to the craft. He has been very dependable. He has done so much for the theater department. He does recruitment and retention.
He is good at exposing the students to academic and professional gigs. And really helps in creating the family atmosphere that we have in the department.”
Dr. Stephanie Howard, aka Dr. Asabi, associate theater professor at N. C. Central University
Reese said he started out wiring home lighting systems, then started touring with major entertainers and helped produce awards shows, concerts, stage productions, and movies around the world.
“After years of traveling and working shows, I decided to focus more on family and on teaching the next generation of technical theater majors,” said Reese.
Reese said that coming to NCCU in 2009 was one of the best choices he’s ever made, adding that he doesn’t regret making the big transition from the road to a more traditional job.
Reese’s transition has not been in vain; he has motivated and inspired innumerable students who have worked alongside him in the theater scene shop.
“I’ve known Professor Reese for about three or four years, and ever since day one, he’s been the hardest person on me,” said senior technical theater major LyShane Williams. “His constructive criticism is what makes me a better artist. I feel like a soldier in my craft. When I say that I mean I’ll go to the forefront of my craft to make sure the purpose of my work is understood by others.”
Sophomore technical theater major Myles Strickland has the same positive assessment.
“Ever since I came here I was immediately accepted by Dr. Reese,” Strickland said. “He trusted me in leadership roles, and I really appreciated that because not many of the professors I’ve had so far have gotten to know me personally like that. It’s really made me feel welcomed and like I’m a part of his family.”
Former theater minor Orianna Best, now a career counseling graduate, calls Reese a “mentor.”
“He has been a father figure and an amazing teacher,” Best said. “I have learned stuff I didn’t think I could do. I no longer do just performance. I do tech work, I do stage hand, I’ve done lights.”
Reese’s impact also has earned him the praise of other theater department associate professors.
“His impact has been measurable,” said NCCU department of dance and theater chairman Johnny Alston. “It has been considerable. From the moment that he came, what he’s done is added a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, and a great deal of desire on the part of students to be involved. He’s increased the number of technical theater majors that we have. There are new opportunities that have opened up for those students through him.
Alston isn’t the only professor who has witnessed and recognizes the contributions that Reese has brought to the theater department. Associate theater professor Stephanie Howard, aka Dr. Asabi, often works closely with Reese when directing a play.
“He is very hardworking, very creative, and very dedicated to the craft,” Asabi said. He has been very dependable. He has done so much for the theater department. He does recruitment and retention. He is good at exposing the students to academic and professional gigs. And really helps in creating the family atmosphere that we have in the department.”
And family is what it’s all about for Reese.
As Best puts it, “He has supported me through all of it. He has been available to listen. He has helped me through life issues that I’ve been having, he’s always there to talk. He’s just a great guy in general. I love Reese. Reese is wonderful.”