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Critically acclaimed lighting designer to join ASU theater faculty


Nate Wheatley smiles, wearing a blue shirt

Nate Wheatley is joining the School of Music, Dance and Theatre as an assistant professor of lighting design. Courtesy photo

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June 04, 2024

Lighting designer Nate Wheatley, recognized for his “flawless” and “inventive” design work with American theaters, will be joining the Arizona State University School of Music, Dance and Theatre as an assistant professor of lighting design.

“We are thrilled to have attracted Nate Wheatley to our theater design and production program,” said Heather Landes, director of ASU's School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “From his varied experiences in commercial and nonprofit theater and opera companies, Nate brings a wealth of knowledge and innovative production practices to our curriculum, which will enhance the opportunities for our production students.”

Wheatley comes to ASU having worked with directors around the country, including repeated designs with Des Moines Metro Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Steamboat, Kansas University Opera, Louisiana State University Opera, Baylor Opera and Sugar Creek Opera (formerly Sugar Creek Symphony & Song). 

Inspired by his middle school art teacher, Wheatley pursued a variety of art forms before landing on lighting design. His love for lighting design began in college, when he realized the advantages of lighting as an art medium.

“Lighting is like painting, but nothing is permanent,” Wheatley said. “The lack of permanence in the art form hooked me because I felt like I could make a mistake but then correct the mistake much easier than painting. If I don't like the color, I can swap it out.”

Wheatley has experience in a range of productions, including regional theater, touring companies and freelance work. 

He did the lighting design for the Des Moines Metro Opera’s production of “Little Night Music” with stage director Matthew Ozawa and scenic designer Isaac Mizrahi. Opera Today said of his design, "Nate Wheatley's magical, sensitive lighting design captured all the intrigue and mystique of a midsummer night when the sun never quite sets." 

Wheatley is excited to bring his expertise and design skills to ASU and its students.

“Not only are the facilities impressive and the equipment really solid — there are all the things needed to do the work well — but I also experienced a culture at ASU that I don't feel I've experienced anywhere else,” he said. “It's also really exciting to be at a university where you can maintain and build and make something better, to improve a wonderful structure that already exists.”

He said ASU was attractive due to the access to art throughout the Phoenix metro area as well as the enthusiasm and talent of the students.

“The students at ASU seem really sharp and things run so well,” he said. “I think that's a reflection on leadership and the students themselves.”

Wheatley has been teaching at Binghamton University. At the start of every semester, Wheatley encourages students to be open to learning and new opportunities.

“The thing I'm constantly trying to teach students to understand is that sometimes we have to be vulnerable in front of collaborators that we haven't worked with before,” he said. “If we can learn to be more vulnerable, we can collaborate at a higher level.”

Wheatley said that theater teaches valuable collaboration and communication skills — necessary skills for today.

“We wish the whole world was like that,” he said. “But isn't that what we're trying to change with the work that we do in theater?”

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