In Vegas, a Class on Building Extravaganzas ; Course Melds Theater and Engineering for Spectacles Such as Superbowl Shows and Celine Dion Theatrics

By Daniel B. Wood writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 29, 2003 | Go to article overview

In Vegas, a Class on Building Extravaganzas ; Course Melds Theater and Engineering for Spectacles Such as Superbowl Shows and Celine Dion Theatrics


Daniel B. Wood writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Behind the first-floor casino of the Sahara Hotel, a group of college students scribbles diligently on yellow pads. Oblivious to the "ka ching" of nearby slot machines, they are getting lectured on the fine points of induction motors, electrical relays, and capacitors of the hotel's rollercoaster which disgorges passengers in a back room.

Weeks before, the same group observed the back of Bellagio's $40 million Cirque du Soleil theatre to see how engineers make an onstage lake rise and fall on command. Before that, courtesy of the same man who made Peter Pan fly on Broadway in the 1950s, they received pointers on how to make an animal or automobile levitate.

The students are enrolled in a first-of-its-kind program that formally melds the diverse disciplines of engineering and theater to feed America's growing demand for blockbuster extravaganzas - supersized, of course.

And where better to teach a course on hi-tech spectacle in theater, sports events, rock concerts, civic celebrations, and theme parks than Las Vegas?

Driven by the need to diversify beyond gambling and create other draws for its 30 million annual visitors, Nevada's neon city has become home to entertainment megashows that range from dancing lasers at the Luxor's "Blue Man Group" to fireworks and flying divas at Celine Dion's show in a new theater built just for her by Caesar's Palace.

The program, offered by the school of Entertainment Engineering and Technology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is where "right-brain" techies meet "left-brain" thespians and dreamers, according to its creators.

"Let's call it marrying the creative mind with the logical mind so we can design and build whatever we can imagine," says Kent Bingham, president and CEO of Entertainment Engineering Inc., a former Disney "imagineer" and former chief structural engineer at Disney's EPCOT Center in Florida.

"The world of theater, theme parks, and entertainment are all morphing to the point where something like this would have to finally reach the university level," says Mr. Bingham, an adviser and sometime lecturer to students in the new program. "We will all be able to do so much more than any of these disciplines can do now within their own fields as currently embedded."

Observers cite the building of two pirate ships outside Treasure Island in Las Vegas as an example of how fragmented the two disciplines once were.

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