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History of the New Vic Theatre

The Victoria Theatre Company was the first professional company in Britain to perform permanently in the round - that is, with the audience on all sides of the acting area. Today, the New Vic is known both for its professional productions and for its award-winning work in the community.

The company’s origins go back to the late Stephen Joseph, director, actor, designer, lecturer and writer. In the late 1950’s, along with other younger theatre practitioners, he was ambitious to renew the vitality of British theatre, founding the Studio Theatre Company to explore a new layout for performance: theatre-in-the-round.

The company’s first base was Scarborough from which it toured the country taking the ‘theatre’ with it - raked platforms providing in-the-round seating for 250. Newcastle-under-Lyme was visited regularly and a permanent North Staffordshire home was planned. On 9 October 1962, a converted cinema opened its doors as a theatre, an event that received no mention in the national press.

Under the leadership of founding Director, the late Peter Cheeseman, the Vic company earned an international reputation through its pioneering work in creating musical documentaries.  Productions such as The Jolly Potters (1964), Fight for Shelton Bar! (1974), Miner Dig the Coal (1981) and Nice Girls (1993) reflected the experiences and preoccupations of the communities of North Staffordshire, with its economy based on ceramics, coal and steel.

In 1983 the Vic Appeal was launched to raise funds for a new theatre.  With local donations totalling over £1 million, the New Vic opened in August 1986.  After twenty-five years¹ work dedicated to the people of North Staffordshire, Cheeseman¹s passion and determination finally achieved the realisation of Stephen Joseph¹s vision ­ the first purpose-built theatre in the round in Europe.

1n 1998, Peter Cheeseman was succeeded as Artistic Director by Gwenda Hughes who has worked extensively in British theatre as an actor and director. For ten years, she was Associate Director with Birmingham Rep and has directed award-winning work in London’s West End. Following her appointment, the New Vic has adopted an increasingly outward-looking and collaborative approach to the communities it serves, seeking to re-define the ways a theatre can contribute to the cultural, educational, social, recreational and economic lives of the communities it serves.

This has led to the setting up of an Education Department to work within formal education, and the company’s ground-breaking outreach department, New Vic Borderlines, which concentrates on work that encourages, enables and promotes Social Inclusion, Community Cohesion and Neighbourhood Renewal. Today, the Education and Borderlines departments are responsible for one third of the company’s work.

Central to the company’s ethos is the belief that each aspect of its work is of equal value. The language of ‘audiences’ has given way to one of ‘engagement’. A young person devising a piece of theatre with Borderlines, the audience for a Shakespeare play, or a class of primary school children working on reading skills are all engaged with the New Vic and all are of equal importance.

The New Vic continues to address issues of concern to people locally. It believes in the power of theatre to change lives for the better. It believes that everyone has creative and artistic abilities and that, through encouragement, participation and example, they can be enabled to fulfil their creative potential.

In January 2007, Gwenda Hughes stepped down and Theresa Heskins became the company's third Artistic Director.

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