World Sideshow Festival

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World Sideshow Festival

Swallowing swords, contorting bodies and outrageous cabaret are all part of Shep Huntly’s world, and later next month he’s giving you a bit of a taster of it. Over three days the World Sideshow Festival – a first for Australia and the world – will bring to the forefront the talent in sideshow acts thanks to performances from a number of Guinness World record holders and other talented individuals.
Hi Shep, thanks for taking the time to chat to Forte, how are you and what are you up to right now? 
That’s fine, thanks for supporting the World Sideshow Festival! Right now I’m sitting on my deck in Byron Bay plotting the finer points of the festival.
Things must be busy in preparing for the upcoming event, what first sparked the idea?
I have been watching sideshow grow in popularity around the globe for the last 15 years – it’s just getting more and more popular. Major circuses and very successful cabaret shows are now featuring sideshow acts. There are sword swallowers and contortionists on TV talent shows and people are more and more into unusual entertainment. As I was watching all this happening I figured it was time to celebrate the art form with a festival.
You’ve also got a background in performing how long have you been into sideshow and circus entertainment, do you remember the moment where you wanted to become a performer?  
I have been performing since I was a kid. I always knew I wanted to be a performer. I went to two universities to study acting, but I found what I was looking for when I discovered circus in Ballarat in the late ’80s. One thing led to another and I found sideshow in the mid ’90s.
Being a performer, does it then make it easier or more difficult for you to choose the performers?  
Easier for sure. I see a lot of shows and over the years I have developed a nose for what’s good and what’s not.
What kind of calibre of performers can punters expect from the event?  
The top of the tree – only the best. I have selected some of the best sideshow artists on the planet. No joke. Four  performers hold Guinness world records, one, The Space Cowboy, holds 33 individual records, more than any other Australian. So the cast are truly elite performers. Aerial Manx is the first and only human being on the planet who can swallow a sword and perform acrobatics AT THE SAME TIME. It sounds impossible and everyone thought it was until he proved us all wrong. His show Not Dead Yet shows us what is possible if we set our minds to it.
The are four featured shows, two of them The Dark Party and The League of Sideshow Superstars are well established acts and the other two, Not dead Yet and The Syndicate  are newer younger acts.
And why should everyone embrace the ‘New Sideshow’?  
There’s literally something for everyone. The Dark Party have performed at The National Theatre of London and The Sydney Opera House. They are masters of dark silent clowning, their show has a depth and theatricality never before seen in sideshow. It appeals to sophisticated theatre patrons. On the other side of the spectrum, Captain Ruin, the leader of the Syndicate has just been asked to perform with legendary punk bands Subhumans and Millions of Dead Cops.
The League of Sideshow Superstars not only feature The Lizardman and the Space Cowboy but also Lilikoi Koas who is currently starring in Circus Oz – she is the amazing redhead hula hooper. Each act in that show goes for three to five minutes so if you are not super impressed by one act you will be by the next.
Is bringing the new sideshow to the forefront something you’ve wanted to do for a while? 
Yes, when I started The Happy Sideshow back in the late ’90s the idea was to bring the artform to the mainstream. It’s there now. Mission nearly complete. I woke up one morning about two years ago and thought, if I don’t make this festival happen now, in Australia, someone in America will do it soon and I’ll never forgive myself. Australia and Australian artists are largely responsible for the global sideshow explosion and we deserve to have The World Sideshow Festival in our backyard
What makes Ballarat a great location for such an event?
It’s close to Melbourne airport and it’s cold, gothic and beautiful. It’s got Rex Hardware, head of live production at Federation University. Fed Uni Live are are producing partners and we couldn’t do this festival without the drive and passion of Rex Hardware – he is a true Ballarat legend
Thanks again for the chat, is there anything else you’d like to add?
Nothing like this has happened anywhere in the world and now it’s happening in Ballarat. People from Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and even Perth have already bought tickets, They are coming from all over the country. Go to and follow the  blue link, choose one show or buy a festival pass, but get your tickets now – I would hate the locals to miss out!
When & Where: Mechanics Institute, Ballarat – May 21-23