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Drives have major role in RSC automation

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The four-year, £112m transformation of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon has included a major project to automate the movements of back-drops and scenery as well as the complex system of lighting arrays.

At the heart of the project, designed and installed by Dutch theatre automation company Trekwerk, are around 100 AC drives and servo motors from Control Techniques. The contract was awarded by Trekwerk to Control Techniques’ Rotterdam Drive Centre.


Trekwerk was responsible for the renovation of the over-stage installation, including the development, design, manufacture and installation of 60 winches plus hoists for 30 light arrays.  Trekwerk has used Control Techniques’ drives exclusively for many years in mechanised rigging systems for theatres across Europe. They have also developed and refined their TNM control system and the advanced SynchroDisk winch systems used at the RSC, which provide virtually silent operation.

The original theatre featured a proscenium-arch stage and a seating capacity of about 1,400 people.  The renovated theatre now has a 1040 seat thrust stage auditorium that brings actors and audiences closer together, with the distance of the furthest seat from the stage being reduced from 27m to just 15m. The experience is much closer to how it would have been when Shakespeare’s plays were first produced – but with stage remodelling and lighting effects that can only be achieved with the cutting-edge electronics offered by Trekwerk and Control Techniques.

Often different productions are performed in the matinee and the evening and the RSC has just two hours to complete the changeover. With the new automation system in place, this is now achieved with ease.

“The winch system is very advanced and gives us much greater flexibility in set design and operation,” says RSC’s head of automation Adam Harvey.  “Safety is paramount, of course, and this is inherent in the whole project.  It is very important to maintain the theatrical illusion and the reliability of the many winches involved in each production is crucial. We haven’t had a single drive fail which is a great result.”

All of the winches are fitted with Control Techniques 15kW Unidrive SP AC drives operating in servo mode and twinned with Unimotor 190 fm servo motors fitted with double encoders for precise positioning and speed control.

A total of 46 drives are fitted to 60 winches with at least half of these being positioned above the thrust stage. Any of these can be configured for different duties from lifting of scenery to controlling the ‘flying’ of actors. Sixteen of these winches are positioned in the ‘slot area’ specifically for stage reconfiguring and 14 unique Trekwerk SynchroDisc winches give silent five-line lifting of ‘flybars’ for rapid changeover of scenery during productions. 

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