CCM student lights up ACT Entertainment's grandMA3 Programming Competition

Eli Suarez received a runner-up prize in a North American lighting design contest

UC College-Conservatory of Music Lighting Design and Technology student Eli Suarez was selected by the ACT Academy as a runner-up winner of its grandMA3 Programming Contest, where designers created virtual lighting shows using grandMA3 software. For his submission, Suarez created a light show to accompany The Killers’ hit song “Mr. Brightside.” 

Eli Suarez works on his submission for the grandMA3 Programming Content, featuring his cat.

Eli Suarez works on his submission for the grandMA3 Programming Content, featuring his cat. Photo provided by Suarez.

“Lighting programming has been my calling for a few years now," Suarez says. "I am applying for an internship with ACT, the North American distributor of MA lighting and several other products. These are all brands I want to continue using throughout my career, and working hands-on with this gear will help me better myself and expand my knowledge for whatever else the future has in store for me.”

The grandMA3 contest was open to university-level students in North America and was judged by top lighting design professionals who provided feedback to the applicants. For the contest, students worked with a preset MA3 file that had specific virtual lighting options that represent real-world light fixtures. In this way, the contestants had the same virtual tools with which to create their submissions.

“I listened to the songs, researched how they were created and tried to get an understanding of how I was going to go about creating this show," Suarez says. "The grandMA3 software is the most recent iteration of the grandMA consoles, and having to learn an entirely new software for this project was daunting."

A screenshot of Suarez's winning submission.

A screenshot of Suarez's winning submission.

Winners not only received hardware and software for themselves but also for their academic institutions. As a result of Suarez’s success, CCM will soon boast a new MA3 Command Wing and MA3 Viz Key for students to use in lighting design classes and to design lighting for CCM’s staged productions. This is an upgrade for CCM’s lighting department, which currently uses MA2 products. Audiences saw this software in action at CCM’s recent productions of Xanadu and Marriage of Figaro. Suarez’s victory was spurred on by CCM Lighting Design faculty and their interest in students’ non-CCM projects.

“[CCM Lighting Assistant Professor] Sharon Huizinga has been super supportive of my goals as a lighting programmer and actively pushes me to try new things," Suarez says. "She gives good feedback on how I am working with the console and those around me. Kevin Lawson, our new lighting professor, is very supportive and an amazing resource. Every student in the CCM lighting department is very fortunate to have these two as professors.”

Outside of his work at CCM, Suarez designs lighting for Columbus, Ohio’s Short North Stage, including a July 2021 production of Carrie: The Musical. He also works as a lighting designer for 3CDC events, such as concerts and touring theatre productions. 

“I think the dream is to program musicals on Broadway, but there are a lot of things I want to do in between," he says. "Programming the transition from Broadway to a first national tour and then touring with the show sounds incredibly fun. I am most happy when I am sitting behind a lighting console, so any opportunity to do that is a success for me."

About CCM Lighting Design and Technology

At CCM, a hands-on, experiential philosophy guides the development of our BFA and MFA Lighting Design and Technology programs. Students gain real production opportunities, where lighting designers work closely with stage directors to bring out the intent of the production through mood, atmosphere, composition and focus.

The drama, and the actors themselves are unexpressive unless we can see them on stage. Great lighting design goes beyond the need for basic visibility into the realm of shadows, angles and colors as well as the subtleties of timing and rhythm. Technicians must work with the sensitivity of an artist so that onstage dramatic effects and timing can be effectively communicated.

Theoretical knowledge forms a solid base, but is only the beginning of the education process at CCM. Students in the four-year undergraduate program take studio and production courses in all areas, beginning with introductory and basic courses and progressing to advanced sequences in a major area.

Additionally, students study theater history, script analysis, dramatic literature, English, world history and arts history, as well as other liberal arts and electives.

Graduate students follow a similar, more special­ized structure in a two-year (or three-year) program.

Headshot of Alexandra Doyle

Alexandra Doyle

CCM Graduate Assistant , Marketing + Communications

Alexandra Doyle is a doctoral candidate studying clarinet performance at CCM. Alexandra’s master’s degree is also from CCM, and she holds bachelor’s degrees in clarinet performance and journalism from the University of Houston.

Feature image at the top: Eli Suarez at CCM's Lighting Design and Technology's Boom event.