Full Sail University

Faculty Spotlight: Susan Kelleher (Course Director, Show Production)

Susan Kelleher uses her years of touring and lighting design experience to help her students create stage lighting at a professional level.

Susan Kelleher sits at a lighting console. The stage behind her is lit up with purple, blue, and white lights.

Susan Kelleher is a course director who shows her students the light. As the instructor for Lighting Concepts & Design and Project & Portfolio IV in Full Sail’s Show Production program, Susan helps students tackle the ins and outs of professional stage lighting from start to finish. Her years of experience with touring productions and her commitment to her students have made her an essential Full Sail faculty member for the past 24 years.

Susan’s interest in live productions took hold in fifth grade, when her teacher had the class put on a family-friendly version of the rock musical Hair. She worked backstage in theater productions throughout high school, then entered college as a pre-med biology major. Susan ran backstage productions while she earned her degree, skipped medical school, and continued working on theater shows in New York while she had a full-time day job. She was an analyst for Nielsen’s television ratings division when she decided to leave the traditional working world behind and go on tour with the National Shakespeare Company as a stage manager and technical director.

During her three years with the National Shakespeare Company, Susan toured the country with 11 actors and helped them put on Shakespearean comedies and tragedies at high schools, colleges, and community centers. She gained plenty of experience managing the elements of a live production on a tight schedule.

“We traveled with a full production, with a lighting system, with an audio system. And we would go to a lot of places that probably never would see a Shakespearean production if we hadn't gone there. It was three years of traveling, and it was one-offs. We'd go in, we'd set up, we'd do the show, we'd tear down, we'd get a hotel, the next morning we'd drive and do it all over again,” Susan remembers.

One of Susan’s proudest accomplishments was designing lighting for a summer stock theater production of Big River. Her designs were stunning on the musical’s outdoor stage.

“It was a fun show to light. It was an outdoor theater. There were trees behind us, and so much of it happens on the Mississippi River. It was just a great environment to be able to light in, lighting up the trees behind it,” she says. “It turned out to be one of the most beautiful shows I've ever lit.”

The equipment and software Susan used on those productions gave her the insight she needed to teach those skills to Full Sail’s Show Production students. She drafted her lighting designs using Vectorworks, a software program used to create lighting designs throughout the live production industry. She also used professional-grade lighting consoles from ETC, which are used in churches and schools throughout the country, and MA consoles, which are common on Broadway and touring shows.

Susan’s classes cover everything from the basics of lighting fixtures to designing and lighting a live production. In Lighting Concepts & Design, students get started with Vectorworks, learn about conventional lighting consoles, and discover how they can use color and other design elements to create beautifully lit productions. In Project & Portfolio IV, students set up and light a mini-concert with a live band, program a light show for a song of their choice, and dive further into designing with Vectorworks.

Susan loves imparting crucial technical skills in her classes, but it’s her connections with Show Production students and graduates that make her job really special.

“Hearing from [my students] and their success stories and what they're doing, and people that have written me and said, ‘I hated lighting and you made me love it,’ or, ‘You were one of my favorite classes, and yeah, I know I complained and it was so much work, but oh my God, I learned so much.’ Just hearing their stories makes it all worthwhile,” she says. “That's what makes me get up and go to work in the morning, is my students.”