Shane is from the Lennon Family that has owned and operated circuses in Australia and New Zealand for over 120 years. He is fifth generation and grew up in the circus travelling throughout the Australian outback towns and major cities. His working life began by operating the sideshows and dodgem cars in his teens. Shane always leaned towards the logistics and marketing side of the circus with many roles he’s taken throughout the years working in the family business. He eventually progressed from managing the amusements side of the business. In 1994, at the age 23, his father, Lindsay Lennon, offered him a role in running a new edition of Burtons Circus. Burtons Circus had a proud history of presenting circus in Australia since 1851. Shane has managed, Lennon’s, Burton’s, The Edgley Family’s Great Moscow Circus, and Hudson’s. His father was also a tentmaker and Shane managed that business called Super Tents Australia.
Nancy Lee Weaver (Lennon) was born in Montreal, Canada. She trained at Dartmouth Titans Gymnastics Training Centre in Nova Scotia. She graduated with a theatre degree from Dawson College. Nancy studied at Toronto School of Circus Arts. Her trapeze trainer, Joel Banks, convinced Nancy to head Down Under. Soon she was working in Lennon Brothers Circus, met Shane and they married. Together they created and operate Hudson’s Circus.
I had the chance to sit down and interview Shane at The Australian Circus Festival in Brisbane.
Ira Seidenstein: Thank you Shane Lennon for taking the time to answer a few questions about your perspective and experience in circus. Have you worked in a field of employment or study outside of circus?
Shane Lennon: As a young man I ran away to join ‘normal life’ where I took a job as a courier delivering express parcels and goods around my hometown of Sydney. This lasted a short six weeks where I then returned to my family’s circus with a new perspective on what was ‘normal life’!
IS: As a circus owner, you wear multiple hats such as company manager, tent boss, as well as being a father, husband and member of the Lennon Circus dynasty. What are the jobs and tasks that you fulfil practically?
SL: First and foremost I play the game of chess which is circus. The strategy of where to take your show as the other circuses move around each year crisscrossing Australia. Having the right tactics and knowing your towns and other variables such as annual shows, large events, harvest times or weather events can make or break your business. My other major roles are marketing, mechanics, tent building and repair, ringmaster, show director and animal presenter.
IS: Is there a meaning to circus or is there a central driving force for you as a person?
SL: Circus for me is two things, an everyday passion to entertain and carry on the circus tradition, and there is a certain romance of putting on a live show within a big top atmosphere that you cannot get in any other venue.
IS: Although some divide traditional circus from contemporary circus, your shows have hired people from each side of that divide and crossover to the other. How do you view that divide, if you do; and, how do you see those sides aligning in the future?
SL: Growing up, this divide was huge for me personally with the fact that most contemporary shows were and still are government-funded. Our family shows were all self-funded. Now as I’m older and more travelled, I see the contemporary artist being of great importance in the future of circus as new artists with fresh ideas and different skills are available to tour with our ‘Traditional style’ circuses. In my current production for our 11-month 2020 tour, I am employing many contemporary artists and backstage crew, allowing me to present a very different style of ‘Traditional Circus with a Modern Twist’ as my advertised tag line in all my posters and marketing present. Both styles of show definitely have a place in the future of keeping the public interested in the circus arts for many years to come.
IS: How do you view the circus in Australia as connected to the Land?
SL: Australian full-time travelling circuses have toured to the most remote parts of our country throughout Australia’s settlements in times of gold rush, mining, floods, droughts and famine to entertain people who would not normally get much access to entertainment.
IS: What has it been like from your experience to have the national circus shift from the larger tent shows with a variety of exotic and domestic animals on long tours, as well as the variety and boxing tents of Sorely’s, Sharman’s, and Brophy’s; to having the national circus scene being influenced from Circus Oz, Flying Fruit Fly Circus, NICA, Circa, Vulcana and a growing variety of contemporary shows mainly in theatres?
SL: It’s becoming increasingly hard to compete with subsidised entertainment with the larger troupes that were common in the 1900s. We now have larger tents with more comfortable seating, staying longer due to our work laws and mountains of paperwork and red tape to hold a show in any one location.
IS: Why do you do what you do if it is such a daily battle with little financial return?
SL: I’m passionate about performing. I get great pleasure in all the feedback from happy families that have experienced a two-hour break from reality with our wholesome and uncensored entertainment.
IS: What is your favourite town you have toured to?
SL: Airlie Beach in Queensland is my all-time favourite and after travelling to many other countries this town is still my favourite worldwide. It has the beaches, islands and climate with a small-town vibe.
IS: Who do you aspire to in your industry?
SL: I look up to my father and the many hardships he went through to put on his circus productions. He is now 81 and still has his finger on the pulse of running two circuses.
IS: What other circuses does your family operate and how did you pick the name Hudson’s for yours?
SL: My family owns and operate Lennon Brothers Circus, and Stardust Circus. My wife, Nancy, and I picked the name Hudson after our firstborn, Hudson Lennon. Hudson was named after Hudson Bay in Quebec Canada where Nancy was born in Montreal.
IS: What are your children’s interests in circus at this stage?
SL: My three children to Nancy are Hudson 8, he is a globe rider (motorcycle inside a steel globe) and loves learning flying trapeze. Denver is 6 and has been a clown in the role of ‘Mini Goldie’ (with Mathew de Goldie – “Goldie the Clown”) and had assisted in the Macaws act with Robert and Belinda Joyes during their contract with Hudson’s. Denver is learning whip cracking and horse care duties. Gisele is 4 in March and loves everything trapeze and ballet. My oldest son Jayden is 21 and he sets up and operates our lighting and sound for our Hudson’s Production.
Thank you Shane for a snippet of your time, experience, and insights. Have a great 2020 national tour for Hudson’s Circus.
All photos courtesy of Hudson's Circus