Stage One

Year 2008

London Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Back Row Productions & Really Useful Theatre Company
Palace Theatre, London

Developing such a highly concentrated package of automation for this award winning and technically challenging production required our team to boldly tread new ground. The unique package included the completely self-contained nine tonne Priscilla who undergoes a series of chameleon transformations thanks to the 40,000 plus LED’s, three performer lifts, interior reveal – and the ability to deliver 40 major movements during the course of the show.

“We visited Stage One’s very impressive operation and took a leap of faith, deciding to go with a one-stop-shop approach and get them to do as much as possible on the scenic side. This removed any need to discuss issues with a committee of different suppliers. We were combining a number of systems uniquely with Priscilla; it was always going to be a difficult get-in and it was. We faced the same teething problems that any large automated show will confront, but Stage One delivered. We would not have opened as we did without their full commitment and involvement. We’ll certainly be talking to them about our future plans for the show throughout the world.” Garry McQuinn, Producer


Priscilla herself provides a unique and highly concentrated package of automation, lighting and effects technology. The bus is purpose built and fully self-contained, with batteries supplying over 2000Ah of power at 24v, providing power for all the automation, interior lighting and exterior LED lighting. The batteries alone contribute 1.6 tonnes to the overall nine tonne weight. Built from scratch in our extensive workshops in North Yorkshire, Priscilla can be ‘driven’ around the stage completely independently, using a specially devised – and disguised – drive wheel system. This system also helps to protect the surface of the show deck. She is programmed to deliver 40 major movements during the course of the show, along with many other smaller movements such as those of the mirrors, the three performer lifts contained within and the 5m garage style door that runs the full length of one side. This door opens to reveal a fabulously over-the-top cocktail bar themed interior fit-out. Over all, Priscilla contains 22 axes of movement with eight motors controlling four slew rings and four drive wheels.

The interior contains all the theatrical lighting required for the actors’ performances within the bus, but externally, the lighting is two-fold. Firstly, there is the traditional practical vehicle lighting, but secondly a stunning level of LED technology is revealed as the story unfolds. It is here that Priscilla departs radically from previous incarnations as the unique construction of the bus enables the transformation into what is essentially a moveable LED video wall of over 40,000 pixels, allowing a myriad of lighting effects to be achieved, all controlled via the bus’s media server.

The multi-layered construction of the bus required a meticulous approach. A steel substructure was clad with a plywood skin on to which the LED mountings were attached. This was then followed by the LED’s themselves, with a PetG skin being applied as a final layer. PetG is a clear, vacuum moulded material, requiring us to supply and manufacture moulds, a process we carried out using our in-house 5-axis CNC facility. The resulting translucent ‘skin’ not only resembled the texture of a real bus, but also allowed the colour and movement of the LED’s to show through. Once in situ, the bus was sprayed a dull grey colour and grey she remains until the scene in which she is painted, when the LED’s provide a stunning pre-programmed reveal, synchronised perfectly with the actors and action on stage. Most of the programming was completed off-site, with our Australian office devising the model animations of each sequence, meaning that less time was spent undertaking complex programming in the theatre.


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