Jeremy Knowles cops to having been a nerdy kid who “was always tinkering with stuff.” But he also loved theater performance. That led him to go to high school at the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts magnet school. It didn’t take long, however, to recognize his acting chops were a notch or two below Broadway level.
So as he headed to college, he reconnected with his nerdy side and came up with a Plan B. “I knew I was good at making stuff and at being creative,” he says. “When I found out about the [UNLV’s entertainment engineering] program, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do this.’”
Knowles, ’12 BS Entertainment Engineering and Design, was among the first students to plunge into the unconventional new program — and among the first to realize that he was in for a challenge. “It’s not just all fun and games and building stuff,” he says. “You have to be good at the engineering aspect of it. But at the same time it was a rewarding program, especially if you like entertainment. The best part for me was getting to meet a lot of people along the way who are really similar to you.”
After graduating in the program’s first class, Knowles secured a job with MGM Resorts International’s events department as a special projects artist. There he gained a lot of experience working with LED lighting, which led to Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson ONE show at Mandalay Bay. He ensures all of the show’s flashy light-up costumes are functioning properly, particularly during the signature number, “Billie Jean.”
“It’s performed totally in the dark,” says Knowles. “There are 15 people onstage for that performance, and their costumes are all individually controlled and light up, and it’s all timed to the music. … We do 10 shows a week, and the LEDs constantly break.”
His freelance design projects let him show off more of his creativity. Among his favorites is an LED trench coat for illusionist Criss Angel’s production at Luxor as well as glow-stick props for dancers for pop star Ariana Grande’s tour. In his spare time, he’s been working on creating a low-cost wireless device to control LEDs, like from a smartphone app. The core skills that requires came from his time at UNLV.
“The program demands that you take a broad range of courses,” Knowles says. “So when you’re out in the engineering workforce, you might not know exactly how something works, but you will have a general idea. UNLV really sets the foundation for you to build off of in whatever job you end up getting.”
And his words of wisdom for current EED students? “Get really good at computers and control software, like lighting or automation control. And try to stay current on your knowledge. Everything moves so fast, especially in theater production.”