A Quick Chat With Shaun Rennie: Light the Night Edition

Shaun Rennie, along with his brother Adam and friends Monica and Greg, held their first Light the Night benefit concert 10 years ago. It has become a must-attend event on the musical theatre community calendar, an outpouring of love and incredible musical talent. This year, the 10th anniversary of Light the Night, will also be its last. We caught up with Shaun to talk about all things LTN, and all the exciting things he’s been up to lately.

Describe yourself in five words. 

Shaun Rennie Broadway Unplugged. Image by Blueprint Studios
Shaun Rennie. Image by Blueprint StudiosVersatile, virile, hairy…. oh wait, what is this for?Versatile, virile, hairy…. oh wait, what is this for?

Versatile, virile, hairy…. oh wait, what is this for?

What does music mean to you?
Music is joy, escape, fun, sadness, beauty…. a direct connection to the soul.

What does family mean to you?
My family has always meant a lot to me obviously. When someone in your family gets sick, you realise that it’s really all that matters in the end. The family you are born into and the family you choose along the way.

How would you describe Light the Night to someone who has never been before?
It’s an annual benefit concert to raise money for leukaemia research. It is inspired by my younger brother Matthew’s fight with the disease, and has continued as his legacy since his passing in 2007. It is always a very special, entertaining, fun night.

Why did you create Light the Night?
We were sick of sitting around, watching my brother go though so much, and feeling useless. It was born out of a need to feel like we were helping in some way. I couldn’t do much for Matty personally, but we could put on a concert and raise some money. Monica and Greg Smith are old family friends, and they had the same instinct to do SOMETHING, so we combined our network and skills and LTN was born.

What were the highlights of Light the Night 2013 for you?
I was in London for LTN last year. It was my younger brother Adam who directed LTN in 2013. I know that it was a big success, and I hated being away for it. I was very proud of Adam though.

Shaun Rennie and Tyran Parke in LOVEBiTES. Image by Pia Moore
Shaun Rennie and Tyran Parke in LOVEBiTES. Image by Pia Moore

What has been the hardest part about organising Light the Night?
It does become an all consuming beast each year. And as the years have rolled on, I have become more and more aware of calling favours on friends. Ten years is a long time to be asking people to do a gig for free! Also the stress of getting bums on seats each year…. but every year, on LTN Day, all of those stresses melt away and its always the best day of my year!

What has been the most rewarding thing about organising Light the Night?
I guess the most rewarding part is when people come up to me and tell me that they attended a LTN one year and that ever since then, they have been donating blood, or have registered to go on the Bone Marrow Donor Registry. It’s really amazing to know that we have actually helped make a difference in peoples lives.

Did you ever expect it would run ten years?
No way!!! The original idea was just going to be a one night only concert. Then after that first year, it was clear that we needed to keep it going. Then when Matthew passed away just weeks before the 3rd concert, it really solidified our event. The momentum was strong, and there was no question about whether or not we would continue.

Why wrap it up now?
It just feels like the right time. With this being 10 years, and the date of LTN falling on the anniversary of my brother passing away, it just felt right. I think that charity events do have a lifespan of sorts, and we decided that it was better to finish while LTN still had energy and momentum behind it, rather than let it lose some of that magic that makes it a special night each year. Who knows? Maybe we’ll back for a reunion show in another 10 years!

What are your favourite moments from the past decade of Light the Night?
So many!!! The first LTN was such an exciting night! I will always remember standing on the top Balcony with Monica, looking down and seeing everyone’s wristbands glowing away. A sea of red glowbands!

The first time Jan drew the raffle…. one of the most stressful and funny moments of my life! She didn’t realise that not all raffle ticket holders were in the room, so if no one yelled out that they had won a prize, she threw the ticket away and drew a new ticket! We had to send her back out so she could fix it! Which she did in the most hysterical fashion.

Seeing my bro after the first LTN, and how proud he was.

Katie Noonan singing “Love’s My Song For You”, iOTA and the bunny rabbit outfit, Josh Thomas and his conjunctivitis eyes, Don Lane performing on his birthday – his last public appearance.

So Many!

Who do you like better: performer Queenie van de Zandt, or music therapist Jan van de Stool?
I love them both of course! I am a little frightened of Jan, but man, she makes me laugh like no one else!

Tell us what you’ve been up to since Light the Night 2013.
As I said, I was in London this time last year. I lived in London for 18 months, coming home in June this year. I loved it over there, there is just so much incredible theatre, and I was lucky to work on some really cool pieces; a workshop with Jerry Mitchell, a production of Grease in Slovenia and the UK premier of Dean Bryant and Matty Frank’s Once We Lived Here. However, I also love being home and being able to be a part of the blossoming independent sector here in Oz. I was recently lucky enough to be asked to do Lovebites at the Hayes…. which I loved! These are very exciting times for MT in Australia.

sing on through tomorrow production shot shaun rennie
Shaun Rennie in Sing On Through Tomorrow

You just finished up Lovebites at the Hayes Theatre. Tell us about that experience.
It was a lot of fun. It was positively received and it was such a joy to work with the three other actors, all of whom were amazing. It was the second new Aussie musical I’ve worked on this year, the first being Once We Lived Here in London. The pieces couldn’t be more different, but both made me very proud and excited about the state of the Australian theatre.

What’s coming up next for you after Light the Night?
I have a couple of projects booked for the first part of next year, however I don’t think I’m allowed to say yet. Nonetheless, it is great to be back and feel that there is so much exciting stuff going on here in Oz.

What are you most looking forward to about Light the Night this year?
The Bottle of Champagne at the end of the night!!

Tell us about the lineup for this year and how these stars came on board.
It’s another amazing lineup, I am always so overwhelmed by the support the industry has shown LTN. This year, we celebrate 10 years of amazing performances. So there will be a slight retrospective but very celebratory feel to the show this year. Many of the artists this year, were there 10 years ago at the first LTN. It’s quite amazing to think about. With artists such as iOTA, Lior, Lucy Durack, Trevor Ashley, Queenie van de Zandt, Tom Sharah, Esther Hannaford, The Idea of North, Tim Draxl, Emma Pask, Alex Rathgeber, John O’Hara, Elise McCann, Marika Aubury, Gen Lemon, the cast of Lovebites and Wicked…. you know its going to be an amazing night!

Getting people to sing at LTN isn’t the hard part anymore. The hard part is making sure the concert is varied and not seven hours long!

How can people continue to support the Arrow Bone Marrow Transplant Foundation?
They can go to our website and make a donation via the links. www.lightthenight.com.au

Who is welcome to attend Light the Night?
Everyone! Bring your Mum, your Dad, your lover, your Aunty Sue and Uncle Joe!! Lets Sell out one final and massive Concert!

Leave us with one final memory of this Light the Night journey.
Swing Dancing in the toilet of the after party with iOTA, he dipped me, and I split my head open and ended up in the ER…. wearing my Tux.

Light the Night will shine for the very last time on Monday 27 October 2014 at the City Recital Hall in Angel Place. For tickets and more information, visit lightthenight.com.au.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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