The Ruzika Company is making waves in Las Vegas. The Irvine, CA-based firm was in the midst of developing architectural lighting for the expanding Silverton Casino Hotel Lodge (south of the strip) when its owners decided to connect its casino with its new retail tenant, a 170,000 sq. ft. Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, the first of the fisherman's paradises west of the Mississippi River. The bridge between the gamblers and the anglers is an 117,000-gallon saltwater tank, stocked with 5,000 fish, colorful coral, and a school of performing mermaids and mermen.

Stephane Miermont, a former Olympics synchronized swimming coach and one of the leads in Cirque Du Soleil's water-based “O” show at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, created Azure. This nine-show series of mirth-and-music programs, each six to nine minutes long, transforms the tank, one show per hour at the top of every hour, weekends and most weeknights. “The shows are currently one song long now,” says principal and lighting director Tom Ruzika. “In one, Boogie, ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ plays when an upright piano prop is dropped in the central, open area of the tank, and there's another, stylized opera piece that turns into a hip-hop number. Later at night, there's a more sensuous pole dance that patrons can look at through portals in the bar area that adjoins the tank. It's kind of like if ‘O’ were dropped completely underwater.”

Ruzika, who was already lighting elements of the casino bar and the store, got into the swim of things. “Not many people have lit underwater dance, and I found myself intrigued by the physics of light,” he says. “How much does it bend in water, for example?” His trial-and-error took place at a novel location. “I went to my 88-year-old mother's house, which has a backyard pool, and totally freaked her out trying to light through and under the water with a bunch of 1kW PAR cans I set up. ‘You're going to electrocute yourself,’ she said.”

Intact from his initial experiments, he and lighting designer John E.D. Bass looked at tapes of a mermaid lagoon show at the Wickiwatchee Springs park in Florida, then drafted a light plot calling for lighting above the tank and below the water line. “It's theatre, with moving lights and color fading and gobos, made with non-theatre people; instead of stage-hands, we used the guys who were refurbishing the casino,” Ruzika says. And, rather than put the lights over a stage, “they're mounted 10' above the tank on a tension grid, which no one had ever done before.”

4Wall Entertainment supplied the equipment, “indoor and outdoor fixtures in a saltwater environment that, with our fingers crossed, we hope will last.” Ruzika reports that 24 Martin Exterior 200 color-fading units are used for a general wash “but are also set up as area washes, down center and down left.” Eight Martin MAC 250 Entours are also employed, as are three High End Studio Spot CMY 575s, “because we knew that Stephane wanted to have spots and pools of light and ‘finger of God’-type light cutting through the water.” Complementing these units are 27 ETC Source Four® HID Zoom ellipsoidals, 21 Wybron Eclipse II dowsers, and 11 Altman UV 150 Outdoor Blacklights. Apollo glass and steel gobos and Rosco and Lee color filters are used to add dazzle to the deep.

In the water are 10 Martin FiberSource CMY 150 fiber-optic illuminators with TIR fibers, which are used in tandem with a bubble curtain to divert the attention of onlookers when the performers discreetly use air hoses to prolong their breathless routines. Under-water LEDs may be employed later to highlight rocks and other elements of the “stage.” Says Bass (no relation to the store), “the bubbles create a beautiful, haze-like atmosphere.”

Outside the tank, the atmosphere was frenzied. “This was a totally fast track, typical Vegas project,” says Ruzika. Bass, who programmed the show alone, arrived at the site last October and spent as much time as he could with the creative team, readying Azure for a soft opening in November, followed by an official opening tied in with the launch of the revamped casino in January. “The nine different shows each have their own look, and some pieces have 50-60 cues for a four- to five-minute song,” Bass says. Azure was programmed through an ETC Expression 3x console, then ported onto a rack-mounted ETC Expression LPC; an Electrosonic show control system triggers all the cues. This system also does what it can to dim the ambient light in the casino when a show is in progress; an ATM and some slot machines had to be relocated when their unwanted reflections were cast on the mermaids.

Ruzika also put in a life-support lighting system for the gilled residents of the tank, to help them get some sleep when the mermaids retire for the evening. “The casino is happy, the Bass Pro people are happy, there's lots of people watching the mermaids, and there's talk of adding two or three new shows and running two every hour. But we wanted the fish to be happy, too.”

Silverton Hotel and Casino Azure Mermaid Show

Lighting Director

Tom Ruzika

Lighting Designer

John E. D. Bass


Stephane Miermont

Director of Aquatics

Lynette Ramsey

Executive Vice President/General Manager

Craig D. Cavileer

Director of Construction

Rick Lane

4Wall Equipment Supplier

Bill Lairamore

4Wall Project Manager

Buddy Pope

4Wall Technician

James Leblanc

4Wall Moving Light Technician

Nick Mays

Themeing Solutions President

Peter Mensching

Electrosonic Show Control and A/V systems

Steve Calver

Equipment List

24 Martin Exterior 200s
10 Martin FiberSource CMY 150
27 ETC Source Four® HID Zoom Ellipsoidal
21 Wybron Eclipse II Dowser
2 Color Ram power supply
3 High End Systems Studio Spot® CMY 575
8 Martin MAC 250 Entour
11 Altman UV 150 Outdoor Blacklight

ETC Expression 3x programming console
ETC Expression 3 LPC
Apollo Glass and Steel Gobos
Rosco and Lee color filters