Creative Economy - Food & Beverage Magazine

Students learn and create in Dinner Theatre Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Creative Economy

Images from the morning of March 13th, 2020, the day after it was announced that UNLV would move to remote learning because of Covid-19/coronavirus. Additional caption information will be added when I get a chance to listen to the videos mixed in and transcribe some of it into the caption. For now if you want it, the videos are there. March 13, 2020 (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Photo Services)

As the entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas understands the hospitality industry. One of the staples coming back is supper clubs with career opportunities in culinary, event planning, technical assistance, audio and visual and other endeavors in the creative economy. The highly ranked William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is part of the food and beverage landscape and is completing the inaugural Dinner Theatre program. The show will be performed Nov. 9, 10, 16, and 17.

Taught by Finley Cotrone, Ph.D., CHE, Associate Professor in Residence, the Dinner Theatre program is a meetings and events culminating class bringing together four years of classroom learning and hands-on practice. The students, selected individually by an interview, create an immersive dining experience. Prerequisites for students in this class are to have completed the experience design class (also taught by Dr. Cotrone). Students learn about the food and beverage components, marketing, how to design a menu and create a cost budget, as well as the community outreach component.

While Dr. Cotrone developed a flexible outline for the show, “the students are really taking that aspect and running with it. They are setting the groundwork for marketing, logos, and how to design the space for the dinner theater experience.”

Kate St-Pierre is working in the program as the creative director, along with her duties as an adjunct professor teaching directing at UNLV. St-Pierre is also Artistic Director of, The LAB LV, an award-winning, experimental, interdisciplinary theatre company based in Las Vegas. 

“Since this is the first time this particular class has been offered, we are stepping into some new territory,” explains Dr. Cotrone. “The culminating classes have been part of the curriculum, and I am very adventurous with these types of classes. A couple of years ago, we had a developer of resorts who graduated in the 1970s approach the school about having students work on the groundwork for the next resort he was developing. I got a group of rock star students together, and we created some amazing foundations for his human resources, guest experiences, spa, food and beverage, and hiring plans. Each class is different, but they all reach the same objectives of the learning process.”

The program fits into the creative economy, defined as individuals and organizations using their creativity to drive jobs and develop economic activity. 

“We are also working on putting together a master’s program in experience design that brings together the components of the creative economy,” she added. The other colleges involved with this master’s program include engineering, fine arts, and sociology. 

Immersive experiences have been trending and growing in the past years, and these involve hospitality, food, and beverage components. Along with the increasing opportunities both on and off the Strip, this aligns perfectly with the creative economy. What the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality is part of creating is using hospitality as its foundation of the entertainment experience. Guests can co-create what they want as an observer or fully participate.

“I tell my students to keep their final projects so they can demonstrate to potential employers that they [the student] understand guest service and how to design the employee experience aligning with the guest experiences which aligns with the target market,” she said explains. 

Dr. Cotrone had to brag about her students’ creativity in this program and how excited they are to be a part of something nebulous. The Dinner Theatre program has students use their textbook learning to develop and present an actual experience. 

“I started the class with team-building activities, so the students would become accustomed to sharing ideas, dealing with conflict, and learning how to respectfully and passionately debate,” states Dr. Cotrone. “I am thrilled to watch them have the freedom to be creative. The analogy I would use is a blank canvas that the students will add color and then decide how to incorporate all of the colors. Then, just like the real world, all ideas are combined, and Kate and I decide on the end result of the show based on all of this genius being presented to us.”

Dr. Cotrone obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatrical performance and has been working on incorporating that piece of her education into the immersive experience for the creative economy. She began her career in hospitality while she was producing and performing in improvisational comedy, interactive theater, and scripted plays.  

“I am having a blast because I am getting to combine passions of mine, which is very exciting,” she says. 

The William F. Harrah College of Hospitality offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in hospitality management. Named after William F. Harrah, the founder of Harrah’s Entertainment, the school is highly ranked in national and international surveys of hospitality programs. For more information, visit unlv.edu/hospitality. Follow on Facebook @ UNLVHospitality, Instagram @ unlvhospitality, Twitter @ UNLVHospitality, and YouTube.

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