Written by: 
Nabeela Iqbal

Joe Bessner ('15) has a blast at work every day, literally.

The UNT alum works as a pyrotechnician for the company Pyrotecnico, handling firework shows for music festivals, concerts and has even come back to UNT for the Homecoming bonfire. Pyrotecnico's latest contract is with Beyoncé for her Renaissance tour, and Bessner will be working at SeaWorld's nightly show HydroPower: Xtreme FX this summer in San Antonio.

He first came to UNT because of the radio, television and film program, that exposed him to theatre. He decided to switch paths and ended up graduating with a theatre degree. On campus, he was heavily involved with the UNT Talons, a student organization that upholds many UNT traditions such as the Homecoming bonfire, the cannon, spirit flags and more.

"I was always the kid who spent hundreds of dollars on fireworks growing up. And then at UNT, when I saw that I could shoot a cannon off and build fire legally, that swayed me into it."

When one of his classmates asked him if he'd be interested in helping the lighting company she worked for with a fireworks show, Bessner jumped at the chance and never looked back.

Joe Bessner ('15) and Reba McEntire.
Joe Bessner and Reba McEntire.

He recently finished overseeing the fireworks for Reba McEntire during her tour.

"She's one of the sweeter artists that I've worked with and she's incredibly friendly. I mean she knows my name now, which I never thought would happen."

McEntire's tour involved rigorous workdays with set up starting at 7 a.m. and ending around 2 a.m. in multiple different cities. While working as a pyrotechnician seems fun and easy, a lot of people don't realize how physically demanding it is, Bessner says.

Fireworks are often large and weigh 50 pounds or more. The setup could take close to eight hours even if the actual show lasts only 15 to 20 minutes and taking down everything and packing the equipment can sometimes take all night.

For some people, this just might not be rewarding enough.

"The most important thing to have is passion. When we do concerts, everyone's there to see the artist. They're not there for fireworks. So, the moment that fireworks go off, everyone just loses their mind. And I love seeing that look of joy on their faces. I love being able to provide a demonstration, a performance for someone and take things to the next level."

While Bessner has done shows for many big names such as The Weeknd, The Chainsmokers, Rihanna, the Super Bowl and even Coachella, his favorite gig was for Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano. The church's Christmas pageant consisted of an extravagant display full of lasers, smoke machines and fireworks.

"It's absolutely insane. That's my favorite show that I've done because my heart is still in the world of theater and that's a much more theater-based show as opposed to the Super Bowl or a concert."

Some shows on Bessner's bucket list are the Olympics in California in 2028; the FIFA World Cup, which is coming to Texas in 2026; and a Taylor Swift concert.

"This is my dream job, and it's just as exciting as it sounds. I would not be here if it weren't for UNT. I am glad Talons exposed me to what I wanted to do."