Professor Reese sets the lights for Technical Theater 1, one of the courses he teaches at NCCU. Photo by Jayah Gomez.

Sets, sounds, lights – it’s all in Arthur Reese’s wheelhouse

March 21, 2024

From lighting up his students’ hearts to lighting up productions on stage, Arthur Reese is one of a kind and a fan favorite with theater majors.

Reese spent most of his time around horses, because his dad was a horse trainer. But, he was always interested in theater.

“I guess, I was what you would call a production department,” Reese said. “I fed the horses, they produced manure, and then I shoveled it out. That activity prepared me for a life in academics and show business.”

Reese aspired to be on the baseball team during his high school years, but the coach never allowed him on the team.

“I could’ve been on the team but he felt it was more important that I do theater,” Reese said. “I learned later on from my dad that the coach saw him in a store and told him that.”

He was always “the fly in the buttermilk,” oftentimes being one of the few black students in his classes. His interest in lighting grew again when he arrived at the University of Virginia, and  he was interested in acting.

However, as a student, Reese struggled to enter the theater world due to his issues with his tech teachers.

“[We] really didn’t get along,” Reese said. “No matter what, he would not let me light a show. Even though I worked almost all of them.”

Despite his experiences, Reese never gave up on his dreams. While he was in college, Reese worked as an electrician, wiring houses which eventually led him back to his dream: working in the world of theater.

Reese received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the UVA, becoming the first and only African American to earn his degree from UVA.

He coordinated the Communications, Media Arts, and Theater division at Chicago State University. And he was the Technical Director for the National Black Theater Festival, which is held every two years in Winston-Salem, NC.

He has designed sets and lighting for many productions and figures, including Maya Angelou, John Amos, Samuel L. Jackson, the Negro Ensemble Co., and Broadway. He was also the technical director for the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts in New York.

His dance credits include Alvin Ailey Dance Co., Dance Theater of Harlem and the world premiere of Eleo Pomare’s “Horses.”

Reese has also worked with many stars, including Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Pattie Labelle, Debbie Allen, Oprah, Billy Eckstine, Nancy Wilson, Queen Latifah, Malcolm Jamal Warner, and Denzel Washington.

Reese currently serves as a theater professor at N.C. Central University, and he was determined to be a better teacher than his tech teacher in UVA.

“Everybody gets a shot, everybody has a chance to contribute and to be who they want to be.” said Reese.

You can find Reese leading the production of “Fame,” a musical the NCCU Theater Department will perform between April 18th-21st, 2024. It tells the story of talented students in the final class of New York City’s Illustrious High School of the Performing Arts, depicting their struggles, triumphs and tempestuous relationships.

“Theater is a very jealous mistress,” Reese said. “When theater calls you, it calls you, you feel theater. It chooses you.”

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Professor Reese sets the lights for Technical Theater 1, one of the courses he teaches at NCCU. Photo by Jayah Gomez.
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Professor Reese sets the lights for Technical Theater 1, one of the courses he teaches at NCCU. Photo by Jayah Gomez.
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