Saturday, April 28, 2018

Early club juggling on the Australian Stage

Some information about early club juggling on the Australian Stage. References available upon request. 

 Indian club swinging was well established in Australia by the turn of the 20th Century. However, although club juggling was common in England and the US in the 1880s and 1890s, it had not reached the antipodes. It was not until 1902, according to Charles Waller, that the first club jugglers performed on the Australian stage.

Although it is probable that clubs were juggled in the country before 1902, the first theatrical performance occurred that year at the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney. The performers were two Americans, Derenda and Breen, who were comedic jugglers and carried Van Wyck clubs.

 The two men had met at a club swinging tournament in New York and from this meeting they developed a music hall act. They were the first club jugglers to incorporate comedy and patter into their performance despite their peers saying that club juggling was ‘too pretty’ for comedy.  

In Australia they began the act by one of them leaping out of a life size poster. Every night it was a different juggler who leapt from the backdrop, keeping the audience guessing as to which one was alive and which a representation.

They incorporated a great deal of humour into the act and showed an amazing dexterity on stage. Their show involved juggling three Wyck clubs back to back, and the climax of their performance was the pair mounting pedestals and throwing eight clubs at each other.





Derenda and Breen, Australian Town, and Country Journal 18 January 1902 p.22



. Derenda was well known for his temper tantrums when the clubs misbehaved.

‘When Derenda made a miss, his rage became a thing awful to behold. Sometimes he would snap a mighty chain to pieces; sometimes with his teeth, tear lumps from the top of a wooden pedestal.


The arrival of the juggling club on the Australian stage led to a contest between club users in the country. Indian club swingers scoffed at the club jugglers, and the cultural space occupied by the club was contested between the athletes and the entertainers.

Whilst Derenda and Breen were entertaining the crowds with their version of club juggling, well known axe and Indian club swinger, Jack Harrison, challenged them to a match. Jack called the pair ‘fancy club swingers’. A term that implied a derogatory attitude towards the art of juggling.

The antagonism between the Indian club swinging community and club juggling continued during the early 1900s. One article published in a Queensland paper compared the health effects of club swinging and juggling as follows.

‘I am aware that the artistes ‘on the boards’ execute some marvellous and intricate evolutions but their work savours more of jugglery than legitimate club swinging. As a rule, they use extremely light clubs, in fact were you to offer them ones weighing 3 or 4lbs they would be unable to do their wonderful finger swings catches and changes. This stage trick- club work looks very pretty and is indeed clever, but it does not bring any appreciable development, as the clubs being mostly held with the finger tips confine the muscular work to the fingers, wrist and forearm.

This description of club jugglers as ‘artistes’ who performed ‘jugglery’ dismissed the skill involved in juggling. The author clearly considered juggling inferior to swinging. By 1910, this disdain of club juggling had spread, and Indian Club Swinging competitions were posting rules stating, ‘no juggling allowed’. This indicated that club juggling had spread in the general community and was infecting the athletic halls of Australia.  Another indication of the spread of club juggling occurred in 1906, when an Australian club juggling act was incorporated into the annual  pantomime.

Australian born trio, Lennon Hyman, and Lennon, were experienced acrobats before encountering the juggling club.  They began their career with touring companies presenting a comedy contortionist act called ‘The Three Waiters.’ After a tour of New Zealand, they took the act to England, and returned to Australia with some Van Wyck juggling clubs. Their encounter with juggling clubs changed their status in the theatrical community and ensured a successful career.


 
Lennon Hyman and Lennon (Authors Collection)

They were comedians,  and their costumes were similar in style to those of Derenda and Breen. Modestly dressed on stage, the three men passed clubs between them at a dizzying rate.

'The first turn was a display of juggling with Indian clubs which they handled with remarkable proficiency, exchanging flying clubs with one another, and sometimes surrendering three clubs in mid-air with an air of perfect nonchalance…. the varied manipulations were really astounding, the concluding turn in which the nine clubs were kept twirling in the air created the greatest enthusiasm.'

In 1906 they performed in the annual William Anderson pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor, suggesting that club juggling had become a popular feature of the Australian stage.

If you are interested in current day juggling in Sydney, try Sydney Juggling for information.

1 comment:

  1. Most interesting. Have a look at my Instagram (footlightnotes) posting #LeoDerenda for a photograph of him. His juggling partner (? Thomas) Breen was replaced not long after their visit to Australia by George Green. Both Derenda and Green were drowned in 1910.

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