Theatre student designs mobile app to control lighting

Adam Zastrow with his maRemote app, which gives remote access to the grandMA2 lighting console. Photo by Eddy Aldana.
Adam Zastrow with his maRemote app, which gives remote access to the grandMA2 lighting console. Photo by Eddy Aldana.

Adam Zastrow, who graduated in May, designed a mobile app called maRemote, as part of his final Research Studio capstone project for the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management.

The app gives remote access to the grandMA2 lighting console, which is the industry-standard console for concerts and entertainment.

“There’s the physical console, and that’s what is still physically controlling the lights,” Zastrow said. “This app basically gives you remote access to it so that rather than having to physically sit at the console and be punching numbers and controlling the lights, you can just do that directly from your phone anywhere within a Wi-Fi signal.”

While the grandMA2 console did have a web browser app, it was not easy to use.

“The grandMA2 console does have a web browser app that you can use, but it’s very clunky and not a great experience for the user,” Zastrow said. “It was the same thing with a lot of the industry professionals that I talked to that they had used it a few times in the past, but it just wasn’t very easy to use. They were looking for an app that was super easy to use and would be able to use regularly and be a helpful item.”

Zastrow said there are many useful situations for the app.

“I was thinking about the designer themselves and a use case where they’re the only person working on a project, so they don’t want to be running all over back and forth to the console,” Zastrow said. “But also, it’s useful for an electrician. If you’re up on a catwalk trying to troubleshoot lights and being able to have a phone with you to control the lights and figure out what lights are working and which ones aren’t. It’s just really useful for anything where you want to be able to control lights without being stuck at a single location.”

Zastrow was an Interdisciplinary Studies major, who studied both theatre (lighting design) in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film, and computer science in the Raikes School.

“Within the Raikes School, we have our capstone project, Design Studio, and that’s working with a company on a computer science project,” Zastrow said. “I approached the faculty with the idea of doing a research project instead, and that turned into something they’re developing called Research Studio. It started out as we just wanted to make something with computer science that was able to work within the lighting world. It evolved into the app that I ended up building.”

His faculty advisors for the project were Assistant Professor of Practice Stephanie Valentine from the Raikes School and Associate Professor of Theatre Laurel Shoemaker in the Carson School.

“I really don’t think that the project would have been possible without either of them,” Zastrow said.

Shoemaker said Zastrow’s app will be useful to industry professionals.

“The remote that Adam has created will not only make creating lighting ‘looks’ more versatile for lighting designers, but also for the electricians and programmers who support the lighting design,” Shoemaker said. “We will no longer be attached to the computer to control the lights. We will be able to control them from the phone we carry in our pocket. One could say it has the opportunity to revolutionize the way lighting is implemented in all of the entertainment disciplines.”

Zastrow demonstrated the app during the Carson School’s Open House in Design/Tech on May 4 (The presentation is viewable at It begins around 9:55 in the timecode.)

“I remember during my presentation, the first time that I took the lights and sort of panned them all up, just everybody sort of having a collective, ‘Ooooh!’ That little reaction, as my Dad put it, that’s when I knew that you had sold them on it.”

Last November, he first worked on the user interface design of the app.

“There were a lot of iterations every week, going back and forth of oh, let’s try a different color here. Let’s try a slightly different layout here, just things like that,” he said.

When he returned in February after winter break, he began diving into the actual app development, which took nearly four months.

“We have what we call agile development processes,” Zastrow said. “That’s where rather than doing giant, horizontal slices of like doing the entire backend and then the entire visual front end of the entire app, you do things in vertical slices. So I started off working on being able to do the selection of lights. And when that was working, I moved on to the pan and then being able to move the lights. Then the next vertical slice was doing the color selection and the light dead zones thing. Basically, you can just keep going.”

Zastrow intends to keep working on the app.

“I don’t have plans for the summer, so I’m planning on just continuing the development of this through the summer,” he said. “Hopefully with the pandemic shrinking away, I’m going to start doing lighting for concert tours and music festivals for TMS Omaha as early as late June.”

Entrepreneurial skills are among the lessons Zastrow has learned from working on his app.

“It was a lot of just learning the entrepreneurial skills of taking something from, hey, I want to try and revolutionize this lighting industry and just taking it from that idea to finding a very specific way to do that. And taking it all the way through from the very beginning ideation to a final marketable product and being able to eventually take it to market and sell,” he said.

Originally from Lincoln, Zastrow had an interest in construction and building so he got his start in theatre working crew on musicals during high school. His Dad is a computer programmer, so he was also interested in that.

“I came into college, joined the Raikes School, thinking I would become a software developer,” he said. “By the end of my freshman year, I just realized I didn’t like big software, so to speak. At the same time, I had been helping out with the lighting for my high school’s musical production, so I was really torn about whether I wanted to do computer science or lighting.”

A friend suggested that he try doing both.

“The very next day I scheduled a meeting with our Raikes School advisor and said I’m thinking about maybe doing this, and she was like, that’s a fantastic idea, let’s do it. By the next week, I had met with Laurel and started signing up for theatre classes. And it’s been an awesome three years since then.”

Shoemaker said Zastrow is a “can do, will do” kind of student.

“He may stop in our electrics shop and listen to the banter, and then the next thing you know, he will be programming a little fire effect for a barrel in our production of ‘Hair,’” she said. “He has helped us with programming new follow spots and with creating effects with our new technology. Adam is our ‘go to’ for all things specialized in our productions.”

Shoemaker appreciated his spirit of collaboration.

“Adam is great to work with, but mostly to collaborate with,” she said. “We have had many meetings just discussing the ‘what if’s’ of his project, and he takes an idea and runs with it, or moves it up a level to an even better idea. Adam treats his project as something that is live, that we can mold and change to make it better and more efficient. He is excellent at listening to all of his advisors, from fellow students, faculty, and professionals in his field, and takes those comments and ideas as rungs on a ladder as opposed to a criticism that would hold him back. I look forward to working with Adam as the future unfolds for him.”

Zastrow is still working through the end goals of his app.

“There are a couple of different ideas of the end goal that I’m still working through and I’m not ready to share all of those details yet,” he said. “But is something that I want to be able to put on the App Store and turn into either a full-time career of having this app or at least as a side project that I’m able to sell and make money off while still being able to improve other lighting designer’s efficiencies.”

He has appreciated the experience of designing an app.

“Honestly, it’s really cool when you get to that point of, okay, let’s just go test this out and just being able to sit there and be on my phone and actually controlling lights and being like this is something that I built, and it’s actually working,” he said. “It’s the same thing when you open a show and are sitting there watching it for the first time and being like, hey, I did this. It’s just an awesome feeling of being able to share that achievement of something that you’ve done.”