Tess Nichol is an NZME. News Service reporter.

Priscilla's backstage heroes should take a bow

Fourteen-hour days, nearly 500 costumes, 70 headpieces and dozens of costume changes a night; it's a busy world behind the scenes of Priscilla - Queen of the Desert.

The legendary live show, which has been running for a decade, has returned to New Zealand, opening at the Civic last Sunday to standing ovations.

Wardrobe manager Suzanne Runciman has worked in theatre for 16 years and has toured the world with Priscilla, but despite running the same cues over and over, she says the buzz of the live performance never goes away.

"I like being on stage, I like the camaraderie of it, the fact that it is live, that anything can go wrong.

"It's a real privilege to be involved in shows like this, it can be a lot of hard work but when you've got all these people who have come in for two and a half hours of entertainment and you're part of that ... you can't put a price on that."

Priscilla is known for its outrageous costumes, with the story following a trio of drag queens as they cross Australia's outback by bus to meet the estranged son of Anthony "Tick" Belrose.

Runciman reckons there are about 500 different outfits in the show, and as many as 70 headpieces.

According to the show's brochure, 200 wet wipes a night are used to take off the actors' make up.

The actor playing Felicia, one of the show's main characters, changes costume 16 times a night - that's a costume change every seven and a half minutes during the two-hour show.

"It's like a bit of dance choreography," she said of the challenge of getting an actor out of one outfit and into another, sometimes with less than a minute to spare before they have to be on stage again.

"It's all about finding the right way to do it."

One costume change in particular, out of a vinyl "cupcake"-style tutu and bodice, takes the team of dressers 30 seconds or less.

"By this point in the show we're halfway through act two, the boys are sweaty, we're just trying to get things off their body," Runciman said.

"My cupcakes are the bane of my life. If I could cut them I would."

Runciman's wardrobe department, a team of 10 people, is constantly changing as the show moves from country to country and the pressures of the live show can result in stressful situations.

Sometimes Runciman has only an hour and a half to brief a new team about where and when they need to find everything before the show begins.

"As head of department it's about trying to remain calm and give people a solution when they come to me [with a problem]," Runciman said.

"You have to be creative, you have to be inventive."

Despite Priscilla's reputation for being larger than life, Runciman's favourite outfits are some of the tamer costumes, like a simple waistcoat with tails worn in one scene, something she said people might find surprising.

The show's costumes are replaced as needed, but some are still the originals from the show's first run in 2006.

Win with the Weekend Herald

The Weekend Herald has 10 double passes to giveaway to Priscilla to give away. Due to strong ticket demand for weekend shows, the passes will be for midweek performances.

To be in to win, send an email with 'Priscilla' in the message field, and also include your name, phone number and address in the email, to news@heraldonsunday.co.nz. Entries close at 5pm, Tuesday, October 25.

Key figures

• Nearly 500 costumes.

• Up to 70 headpieces.

• 10 years since the show first toured.

• 30-second costume changes.

• Up to 16 costume changes per character.

• 120 pairs of shoes.

• 200 wet wipes used a night to take the performers' make up off.

- NZ Herald

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