San Diego Symphony’s New Outdoor Venue Opens with Elation Lighting System

Photo: Jason Rothberg

The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park features ‘friendly’ symmetrical rig designed by Jason Rothberg using over 200 IP-rated luminaires supplied by JRLX.

The highly anticipated The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, San Diego Symphony’s premier new venue perched beautifully on the edge of San Diego Bay, is set to open with a state-of-the-art LED lighting system from Elation Professional. The captivating architectural construction by lead architect Greg Mueller of architecture firm Tucker Sadler, a work of art in itself and the centerpiece of a newly upgraded public park, will highlight the city’s world-class orchestra while hosting a variety of musical acts.

Designed to be one of the most acoustically superior outdoor concert venues in the U.S., The Rady Shell boasts a first-class lighting system to match supplied by systems integration, sales and production firm JRLX, Inc. out of Chicago. JRLX provided lighting fixture specification, consultation, and application support for The Rady Shell lighting fixture package and installation. AV solutions company Solotech handled the lighting infrastructure, data distribution, audio and video.

Lighting design is by Jason Rothberg, who has served as Technical Director at the San Diego Symphony since February 2020 after working for more than 20 years as a touring designer/director. Acclaimed theatrical consultants Schuler Shook originally completed the initial design for The Rady Shell months prior to Rothberg’s onboarding. As the needs of the venue were further defined and modified, Rothberg worked with Schuler Shook and JRLX to assemble a revised specification and multipurpose lighting system.

“As a touring LD and having worked in many venues over my years on the road, I knew we wanted the design to be very tour friendly, rider friendly and LD friendly,” Rothberg states. “That was the idea behind the design. A super simple, clean, symmetrical design that uses only a few fixture types, something anyone could come in and clone from to make any kind of show happen.”

Rothberg consulted with Jason Reberski, CEO at JRLX, for hours to hash out the details of the lighting package. “It became apparent in talking with Jason early on that this was no ordinary lighting system,” Reberski comments. “The demands placed on it would be tremendous; throw distances of 300+ feet, overcoming daylight, the need to be flexible and capable of achieving many different aesthetics, and all while needing to be 100% IP65 rated. We worked closely with Elation and Jason to aid in specifying a package to achieve these goals.”

While ease of use for lighting pros who come into the venue was essential, the rig had to work best for the venue’s resident symphony orchestra, which meant lots of top down white light. With trim heights ranging from 25-40 feet, they needed a fixture that could get wide enough at the lower trims but then stay bright enough from the higher positions. Moreover, sitting right on the ocean, moisture, dew, and worst of all salt-air, were problems to contend with.

“We wanted to avoid ugly-looking enclosures so we needed the rig to be fully IP-rated,” Rothberg says, adding that they tested many possibilities. “There were already 12 Proteus Maximus on that original spec when I came onto the project, for the towers out on the lawn, but I didn’t know anything about them. As I looked into them, and then the rest of Elation’s IP-rated line, I discovered they had all the options we needed – Leko, moving wash, static wash, and profiles.”

The original spec listed a wash, a profile and a spot fixture but Rothberg found the Maximus could do it all in one fixture. “I went from three fixture types to one fixture type that could do the same thing and then some. Plus it gave me a purer white, was brighter and had CMY!” A shootout with other fixtures proved the deciding factor. “As soon as we turned it on we knew that was it. The Maximus was so much brighter and had everything we needed, plus a nice gobo selection to boot. It was really the only option.”

The Rady Shell has a capacity of up to 10,000 with terraced seating that guarantees excellent views from every seat. The 13,000-square-foot concert stage is covered by a canopy of concentric, oval rings with an inner liner (effectively a scrim ceiling) slit five times to expose catwalks. Here, 37 Proteus Maximus hang from five overhead electrics while 12 units work from six towers (2 per tower) that range from 120 to 320 feet from the stage.

“Even in red and from 320 ft. away the Maximus is insanely bright hitting the stage,” says Rothberg. “We originally thought we’d use them as followspots from the lighting towers but found that the first catwalk position is the perfect angle. We get a tight beam with virtually no light spill from that position.” The six towers surrounding the venue also house 36 compact Paladin Cube RGBW floodlights, 6 fixtures per tower, that set the towers aglow from within. It’s an eye-catching sight that adds to the immersive feel and amplifies the overall beauty of the space.

Joining the Maximus fixtures on all five overhead electrics are 34 IP65-rated Proteus Rayzor 760 wash and specialty effect lights. “We use them as washlights or eye-candy pixel effects and can access the SparkLED technology for sparkle effects for a special look,” Rothberg explains. “Their position in the rig, following the curve of the roof, they look great.”

Paladin Panels, outdoor floodlights with 50 15-watt RGBW cells, work from electrics 2-5 for toplight washes for the orchestra while doubling as strobe lights for other shows. “One aspect that I’m particularly happy with is the use of Elation Paladin Panels as symphony top-light with custom City Theatrical egg crate louvers,” states Reberski. “We designed the accessories to both reduce glare and also accommodate an internal filter media frame to accept holographic diffusion so that as the fixture trim height changes we are able to achieve a homogenous stage wash. When Jason mixes a CTO, it looks just like a traditional tungsten top light system.” Additional Paladin Panel fixtures work from all six towers.

Providing front light from the first three catwalks, as well as the first two towers, are WW Profile HP IP, high power LED ellipsoidals. Ten fixtures on the towers are equipped with 5-degree lenses while 32 stage fixtures use 19-degree or 26-degree lenses. Finally, 9 DTW Blinder 350 IP™ variable white LED 2-lite blinders work from the downstage electric. Not only can the rig cover a wide range of musical genres no matter who graces its stage, the lighting system is all LED, meaning the venue is saving on power, maintenance, and expendable costs like bulbs versus a traditional rig of halogen fixtures.

Rothberg acknowledges there were challenges to overcome along the way, for example lighting angles that required custom self-leveling hangers. The Covid downtime gave them ample time to find solutions however, ultimately producing a system consistent with the high artistic and functional standards of The Rady Shell. “I’m super happy with the way everything has worked out,” Rothberg concludes. “Going with Elation, we were able to double the fixture count while maintaining the quality, performance and brightness. It’s a rig the Symphony will benefit from for years to come.”

The San Diego Symphony now performs at two venues, Copley Symphony Hall in downtown San Diego and The Rady Shell at Jacob’s Park. The Symphony’s opening weekend at The Rady Shell at Jacob’s Park is scheduled for Aug. 6-8 with an inaugural season of concerts running through Nov. 14 featuring musical talent such as Smokey Robinson, Yo-Yo Ma, Brian Wilson, the Symphony’s Music Director Rafael Payare and many others.