There's nothing quite like a large family gathering to bring out the drama in everyone – especially family reunions where reminiscing, rehashing, and gossiping can spark mayhem. It’s the kind of hilariously chaotic event that makes for even great theater.
An adventurous, new hospitality events class discovered that it also makes for a one-of-a-kind dinner theater experience.
During the fall 2022 semester, students in the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality created a two-week interactive dinner theater engagement in Beam Hall’s Boyd Dining Room called the Moroné Family Reunion. The guestlist consisted of the general public invited to play along with embedded actors as extended Moroné family members while being treated to a delicious Italian dinner.
The students had a hand in both the performance and the behind-the-scenes prep. Responsibilities included all of the logistical planning, such as designing the event’s logo and branding, developing the dinner menu, laying out the floor plan, marketing the event, and assisting with the script.
“In 22 hours of class time, we were able to create something that could stand proudly next to all the best shows in town,” says course instructor Finley Cotrone. “We did some team building the first day of class and then hit the ground running.”
To ensure the students were prepared for the task at hand, Cotrone hand-selected those who were willing to take risks and embrace the creative process. Rather than be graded on the events’ monetary success, the students were evaluated on their ability to collaborate, contribute ideas, and handle conflicts throughout the course.
This emphasis on creative thinking and problem-solving allowed students to focus on the process and the skills they were learning, rather than just the end result. It also fostered a supportive learning environment where they could freely explore their ideas and creativity without fear of failure.
“Having the creative freedom to design the event without a bullet list of instructions made everything feel much more real,” says hospitality senior Jeffrey Kloss, who played Cousin Dom, the event’s disc jockey. “We were given a blank canvas, like we would have had in the real world, and we took it seriously.”
The students received valuable support and guidance from community partners during the planning process. The Dorset Wine Company generously donated wine and vodka for the event series and shared their beverage expertise. The OneSeven Agency worked with students to create a comprehensive marketing plan and press release.
Cotrone, who has a background in interactive theater and improv comedy, enlisted the help of her network to fill character roles. UNLV theatre instructor Kate St-Pierre, who is also the artistic director at the LAB LV, served as the creative director, designing the run of show, creating dynamic characters, and scripting memorable moments. Theatre students were invited to audition for roles.
It was a legitimate cast of characters that put the students’ skills to the test in a real-life event setting.
“Our mentality changed from ‘this is a class project’ to ‘this is a real show,’” Kloss says. “It expanded my limits and gave me a creative boost. Now, I can do something like this professionally and not be afraid.”
Serving as the students’ culminating experience, the event challenged students to use every event planning muscle at their disposal. They were charged with applying the principles of organizational behavior to effectively manage volunteers, using their understanding of purchasing and cost control to plan the menu, and employing their hospitality marketing skills to effectively promote the event.
Throughout the course, the students honed their problem-solving, conflict resolution, and team communication skills. Their new improv skills also proved invaluable, allowing them to trust their instincts and adapt to any unexpected challenges.
“If anything, my hope is that all the students walk away with the confidence to try something new,” Cotrone says. “You won’t know if something will be a hit unless you try.”