BOCHUM, GERMANY ― The Guinness World Record-breaking German version of the long-running musical phenomenon Starlight Express celebrated 35 years of performance in June 2023. zactrack celebrated its own slightly shorter ‘milestone’ with a Starlight Express five-year ‘anniversary’ dating back to when a zactrack PRO system was first specified by the show’s technical director, Peter Lucassen.
In that time, he reports, “it’s been fantastic ― completely stable and reliable!” and has revolutionized the way the fast-paced roller spectacular has been lit. Lucassen has been working on the show’s production since 1990, two years after it was first installed into the purpose built 1,651-capacity Starlight Express Theatre in Bochum, Germany. It is a 360-degree show, and the venue features U-shaped tracks or skateways for the roller-skating action on three levels. The show plays with an audience in the middle and surrounding the stage.
At the end of 2017 and start of 2018, the show received a complete revamp and technical refresh, making it more appropriate and contemporary for today’s audiences. The original production had been lit by legendary UK theatre lighting designer David Hersey, followed by a few re-lights over the years. Five years ago, Rob Sinclair was brought in to light the new version. Sinclair is well known for his innovative approach to lighting and his ground-breaking work with music artists like Queen + Adam Lambert, Lil’ Nas X, Kygo, Tame Impala and many more.
This also seemed a great time to replace the show’s traditional follow spot system and introduce zactrack. Previously, six follow spots were used around the venue to follow the lighting quick skaters, which were great in the day, but fast-forward 30 years and somewhat cumbersome, space-hungry and less efficient at lighting the subjects. These have been replaced with 30 moving lights in the rig linked to and controlled via the zactrack real-time tracking system.
This gives the production a massive amount of flexibility and control over the movement of the lights and the modern style of follow spotting that was desired for the show, along with more precision to follow cast members whizzing around the arena unfolding all the drama and excitement.
The lights are high-end SolaSpot 1000 and SolaWash 2000s. Forty-two zactrack Trackers are used in total, carefully concealed in the costumes of 26 artists, mostly principals, with 16 zactrack Anchors marking out the system’s active zones. The zactrack server feeds positional data into the grandMA2 lighting console.
The production features a large looping track measuring 40 meters by 42 meters, with 12 meters of headroom, so the strategic placement of those 16 Anchors is crucial for covering the tunnels and every curve and corner of the stage design. This is easy work for the scalable zactrack PRO, which handles arena- and stadium-sized tracking areas with aplomb.
The 2018 technical upgrade also included built-in video projection, new lights and upgraded sound equipment, as well as fresh actors and even some new songs to celebrate a remarkable 30 years of the German production’s success, which has been enjoyed by over 18 million spectators.
Lucassen reckons that deploying zactrack has been the biggest visual and production game changer for the production. It was seen as THE way forward for this style of show by himself and theatre director Meinolf Muller, who were both delighted by the results.
“It changed everything related to how we can stage the show for the better,” he notes. They are enjoying all the various options that zactrack has opened up and are “extremely happy” that they made this investment decision. “I would use and recommend zactrack any time,” he concluded.
Starlight Express Germany performs around 420 shows a year with seven or eight performances per week, well on the way to clocking up 12,900 shows. A cast change every 12 months or so has seen the involvement of more than 850 actors from 27 nations. It’s also the longest-running show playing in a purpose-built venue of any worldwide.
Over the years, the smooth and streamlined backstage and production operation has become a family-like scenario, with many long-term employees on the crew and in the departmental teams collaborating closely to ensure this spectacular theatrical show continues to thrill audiences.
Photos: © Mehr-BB Entertainment