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
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. …