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Still Flying High: Emily Black

Entertainment engineering alumna works behind the scenes to help clients like Shania Twain and Drake

People  |  Sep 12, 2018  |  By Matt Jacob
woman sitting in hoop above stage

Entertainment engineering alumna Emily Black now works to ensure artists like Shania Twain can safely dangle from the stage. (Lonnie Timmons III/UNLV Creative Services)


Emily Black knows how to make an exit. The last time the campus saw her, she was flying across the Thomas & Mack Center, clad in her scarlet cap and gown.

It was May 2012 and commencement organizers wanted to call attention to the first graduating class of UNLV's entertainment engineering and design program. They enlisted the help of Black and Joe McGeough, director of operations for locally based Flying by Foy to make the ceremony special. (His son, Daniel, would graduate two years later from the program.).

The theatrical flying company set up a floating pulley system on a track that plucked Black from the sea of graduates and sent her soaring high above the crowd, eventually descending onto the stage as the ceremony’s final graduate to claim her diploma.  

The former Rebels cheerleader is behind the scenes now as a design engineer for Show Group Production Services, a company with offices in Las Vegas and Los Angeles that does custom rigging, automation, and staging for entertainment clients.

“If an artist wants a custom stage or a custom flying system, we’re in charge of coming up with the plan to make it happen, including making it as easy as possible to build, tear down, and transport,” says Black, ’12 BS Entertainment Engineering and Design and ’13 BS Mechanical Engineering.

She’s helped create a stage-arm saddle and moving video cubes for country music singer Shania Twain’s concert tours and a scale model of Toronto’s CN Tower for rapper Drake’s OVO Fest. She also worked on the halftime show set for this year’s NBA All-Star Game.

“A lot of times you start out with a concept and say, ‘This is going to be impossible,’ and then we eventually get it to the point where it’s something we can actually make — and usually within a tight time frame.”

She says the lab work she did as part of the EED program made her especially marketable. “Having that hands-on experience — even learning how to drill a hole — put me steps above a lot of my peers.”

Not surprisingly, then, Black’s advice to current students is to get as much hands-on experience as possible “either through internships or just going out to gigs and learning how to set up a show. If you can say, ‘Here, I have a degree, but I also have experience,’ that’s very important.”