Inside Luna Park’s $15 million transformation

Entertainment

Sydney’s Luna Park is set to open the city’s first permanent immersive experience when it premieres its $15-million Dream Circus
Luna Park CEO John Hughes
Key Takeaways
  • Luna Park Sydney has spent $15 million transforming its Big Top arena into an immersive experience.
  • The new Immersive Big Top includes a 3,000 sq m projection area capable of holograms and with a 30-high stack of laser projectors, 100 “spatially mapped” speakers through the ceiling and thousands of LED lights.
  • Luna Park is promising to throw the space open to up-and-coming creatives to see what they can do with it.
  • The first show, Dream Circus, opens December 22, aiming for 50,000 visitors over the summer.
  • The experience was brought to life by Australian creatives and technicians including Artists in Motion, TDC and Auditoria.
  • Tickets: $35 for children and $45 for adults.

Dream Circus and the Immersive Big Top is the brainchild of the 88-year-old amusement park’s 38-year-old CEO, John Hughes, and his leadership team.  

For Hughes, it all started when he got the call from a headhunter in 2022 asking him if he’d be interested in heading up the heritage-listed, art-deco fun park.

Luna Park Dream Circus
A scene from Sydney Luna Park’s Dream Circus. | Image: Katie Mann

The then head of the Fox Studios entertainment precinct in Sydney, Hughes felt the pull of the big smiling face that has grinned across Sydney Harbour since 1935. “Ever since I got that phone call. I haven’t stopped thinking about Luna Park.”

The first thing he did was go and have a look. “I hadn’t been here for a couple of years. I had fond memories growing up visiting the park.  Even though I was running a fairly comprehensive business in Fox Studios Australia – working for Disney, one of the biggest media/entertainment companies in the world – as this proud Sydneysider, you get this call (to run) Luna Park. It still excites me thinking about it.”

He visited 10 more times during the interview process. He thinks he got the job just because he was so darn enthusiastic about it.

“My appointment was to transform the park,” he says. “It wasn’t to run it as it was previously being run. It was to think about it in a new setting, re-energise it and take it to another chapter.”

It needed to become “more than rides and rollercoasters”, without losing the old-fashioned charm, he said.

Dream Circus Luna Park
The Dream Circus show

“So in the last 16 months, we’ve been through the strategic planning process, understanding what it means to be an amusement park and how best to give audiences what they should be given. That led us to a search around this global boom in immersive theatre.  We saw these key themes selling out all around the world. Gen Z and Gen Alpha are craving these experiences.”

They took inspiration from such leaders as Meow Wolf, the US company that creates large-scale interactive and immersive art installations; the touring Van Gogh, the Immersive Experience and Melbourne’s The Lume “the world’s largest digital art gallery”.

“We originally tried to find one to import, but then after exploring them and looking at some of these other options, we decided we could do it better using Sydney creatives. And that’s what we’ve come up. It’s a world-first concept, a world-first style of immersive attraction given the layers of technology. We think it will make us a thought leader in this space.”

Dream Circus follows a storyline and involves circuses in the sky and underwater, among other places, but beyond that, Hughes is not giving much away.

It’s a 52-minute pre-recorded show, but the staff will be dressed in character. “The show plays out around you in a 360-degree sphere, using the LED screens, the projectors, the spatially mapped audio system, the lighting state, everything’s automated. And it’s all happening around you … completely immersed in this 360-degree environment.

“Because it’s a dream, our characters can take us anywhere. They can take us to an underwater circus. They can take us up in the sky to a flying circus, and we go to a lot of different places in a very short period of time. And for the audience it’s highly immersive and highly engaging and a lot of fun.”

Dream Circus will run all summer and well into next year, Hughes said, with the plan to ultimately throw the space open to others to let their ideas run wild. “We wanted to lead the way by building an immersive venue that creatives can play in. We want to see great ideas and we want to see people push what’s possible technically and creatively in this space now that we have it built and now that we have the capability to display it.”

The experience was brought to life by Sydney-based creatives and technicians including Artists in Motion, TDC and Auditoria who between them have worked on the immersive ABBA Voyage, Marvel films and Olympics openings.

Dream Circus | Image: Katie Mann

Future technologists will also have a state-of-the-art training facility creating a “vocational pathway” into the growing immersive experience industry.

“We are proud to build for Sydney, one of the most technically advanced environments in the country,” Hughes said. “The result will be a venue without equal – capable of featuring the best immersive experiences, never-before-seen immersive live music and special events.”

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