Back in March, when it became apparent that coronavirus wasn’t going anywhere, a Campbell River teen visited the hardware store.
He purchased supplies to build a large living-room-sized bus on wheels. Priscilla, as she would be christened, lived on the top floor of Ryver Santos Cegnar’s house.
With mom’s permission, the living room was slowly transformed into the stage and set for Santos Cegnar’s home production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
The musical has long held a fascination with the 15-year-old artist and actor.
“I am not a drag queen myself, I know the slightest of make-up,” he says. “There’s such big costumes and the set is essentially a big part of it.”
The musical is based on an Australian movie from the 90s: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The comedy/drama sees two drag queens and a transgender woman travel across the Australian Outback in a bus called Priscilla. The film follows their adventures and the various characters they meet along the way.
The musical was going to be staged in his previous community in Sudbury, Ont., but before he had a chance to take part, his family moved to Campbell River.
Santos Cegnar, an active member of the community is involved with just about every club at Timberline Secondary, where he’ll be a junior this fall. He’s in the musical theatre program, the leadership program, the sport leadership program, the stagecraft program; he’s in the garden club, the eco club and the knitting club.
“Essentially any club you could imagine,” he says.
He’s played many parts throughout his time in theatre, but most recently, he’s played Goodman King in Timberline’s production of Fame, and Harry in their production of Mamma Mia!. He’s played Robertson Ay in Shoreline Musical Theatre Society’s Mary Poppins. In March, he was Nicky in Timberline’s Avenue Q – School Edition.
With public health officials encouraging British Columbians to stay home, Santos Cegnar used the time to work on his informal production of Priscilla. He mixed the music, planned the visual light show, choreographed the show. Then he recruited his family. Nana, Mirian Cegnar helped with costumes; mom, Tanya Cegnar, got training on the light board; and little brother, Reef, got a part in the show.
They rehearsed a few times a week and just two days before the show was set to be live-streamed, they held their first full run-through.
On a rainy night in June, their south Campbell River home is bustling. The shades are drawn in preparation for the dress rehearsal as Mirian does some last-minute stitching on an unfinished costume. Reef stays in his room until the last minute as his older brother sets up the room for the show, moving furniture out of replica Priscilla’s way. Tanya settles in under the lighting truss, control panel in hand and hits play. The first notes of the opening number play through the speakers.
Santos Cegnar had never performed in drag before, but he didn’t shy away from the challenge for the show. Embracing the jukebox musical – where the majority of songs are well-known, rather than original numbers (like Saturday Night Fever, based on the Bee Gees and others; Mamma Mia!, based on ABBA, and Jersey Boys, based on the music of Frankie Valli and Four Seasons) – Santos Cegnar included many numbers in his production, but edited down so it wouldn’t last more than one hour. There’s a dizzying amount of costume changes, all made possible with Mirian’s backstage help. One number sees Santos Cegnar change costumes five times in just three minutes.
Two days after the rehearsal, with social circle friends settled onto the front-row couch and dozens of audience members tuning in from their own homes, the red light on the camera blinks on and the show begins.
With a few hundred views, Santos Cegnar’s living room production is receiving praise from its online viewers. While the spinning set of Priscilla is long disassembled, the creator says there may be more productions on the horizon.
Mamma Mia! has long been a favourite of Santos Cegnar and his friends. They may be belting the catchy ABBA tunes before the summer is out.
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