O, What Opportunities!

O, What Opportunities!

Creighton theater major finds success designing live events and productions, including themed cruises with Oprah Winfrey

By Amanda Brandt, BA’14

From an internship with Opera Omaha to working with Oprah, Jake McCoy, BFA’12, has had a front-row seat to the behind-the-scenes world of live event design and production.

The Andover, Massachusetts, native came to Omaha to study technical theater. When he left, graduating early with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree — not an easy feat — he walked straight into a full-time gig in New York City.

“It’s been a crazy few years since I left Creighton,” says McCoy.

McCoy credits his professors in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts for giving him opportunities within the department and getting him well-connected within the Omaha performing arts scene.

While interning with Opera Omaha, the New York City-based Broadway Dreams Foundation came through Omaha and put on a weeklong performing arts boot camp at the Holland Performing Arts Center. The nonprofit asked McCoy to be the assistant stage manager for the week, but he aced the interview and was named production stage manager instead.

“I had really great training through Creighton,” McCoy says. “It was a big step up for them.”

The company was so impressed with McCoy that they offered him a job. But he was adamant about finishing his degree before moving to the Big Apple. He worked with his professors to take 21 credits per semester and complete his thesis — designing the scenic, lighting, projection, costumes and props for Creighton’s 2012 production of Almost, Maine.

After graduating, McCoy started a full-time position as a production manager with Broadway Dreams. Then, in 2014, a professional associate called him up on Thanksgiving Day to ask if he wanted to be the assistant to the producer for singer Mariah Carey’s revamped live Christmas musical show, “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

“I said, ‘Absolutely!’ And that’s when things got really busy,” McCoy says.

In 2015, McCoy joined RWS Entertainment Group as a production manager, working primarily within the cruise line division.

He worked with Holland America Line to produce live entertainment on its fleet of ships. Typically, a cast is on one ship for six to eight months at a time, then the performers are switched out. He was on hand for these swaps to “re-tech” the shows with the new casts.

“I really got to see the entire world, from Japan, to the Bahamas, to Alaska,” McCoy says. “It was a really cool experience.”

And, ultimately, it was where he met his now husband, who was working on one of the Holland America ships.

In 2017, the cruise line partnered with O, the Oprah Magazine, and the brands announced a special theme cruise with Oprah Winfrey. That’s where McCoy came in. Due to his professional experience, he worked with both Winfrey’s team and the ship to produce all the Oprah-themed activities, including a talk show on board with Gayle King, Winfrey’s friend and a CBS journalist.

Then, Holland America asked Winfrey to be the godmother of a new ship they were launching. (It’s tradition to designate a “godmother” for a new cruise ship, though in the case of Holland America, they are usually a member of European royalty.)

McCoy oversaw much more this time around.

He did talent and operations management, designed the shows, worked with the video teams and coordinated five semitrailers full of gear to Florida. And once Winfrey came on board, “that was my life for 72 hours,” McCoy says. “I worked with her security, her chief of staff and made everything run smoothly. It was crazy.”

Today, he is a production director in the new Experiences Department at RWS. Rather than focusing on events that have a live performance, his work is about interactive and integrated experiences that bring the senses to life. This ranges from light shows at launch parties to large-scale seasonal commercial décor at properties around the world.

Another Creighton technical theater graduate, Matthew Hamel, BFA’15, works at RWS, as well.

McCoy is grateful for the hands-on experience he received at Creighton.

“We (the students) benefitted because the department was flexible,” he says. “My advanced drafting class was just me and Mark (Krejci, technical director and theater instructor). He had a syllabus, but asked me, ‘What do you want to get out of this class?’ So I told him, and that’s what we focused on.”

McCoy also thinks the emphasis Creighton places on the liberal arts has made him stand out, although at the time he wasn’t too keen on taking all the core classes.

“The way (these classes) were presented to us, it just opened your mind up,” McCoy says. “I look at things differently because of those classes.”

His advice for those who are trying to break into the performing arts industry? Make sure you act with integrity and dependability.

“Especially in New York, everybody in the city is good at what they do,” McCoy says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a performer, designer, choreographer … everybody is good. You have to be somebody who people want to work with.”