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The New Vic Theatre will lead a celebration of 250 years of circus in 2018, as they collaborate with national and international partners including NoFit State Circus and the Victoria & Albert Museum, on Circus Past, Present and Future – a programme of events taking place in Newcastle-under-Lyme that will spectacularly showcase the extraordinary artform in its anniversary year. Taking place between March and August, the programme will see Newcastle-under-Lyme, the birthplace of the father of modern circus, Philip Astley, become a hub of celebratory activity as it joins in with the national celebrations of Circus250.
In 1768, equestrian, entrepreneur and showman Philip Astley drew out a ring and filled it with astonishing acts – tumblers, horses, acrobats, jugglers and clowns – and created the first circus. The artform went on to become an international phenomenon, travelling to all corners of the globe, and on its 250th anniversary its longevity is testament to its accessibility for audiences of all ages.
Supported by Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence programme, Circus Past, Present and Future at the New Vic will champion Astley’s extraordinary legacy in his birthplace of Newcastle-under-Lyme.
The ambitious programme will begin with the world première of NoFit State Circus’ LEXICON (Wed 28 March – Sat 21 April). Commissioned through the Ambition for Excellence project for Circus Past, Present and Future, LEXICON draws inspiration from circus history, heritage and traditions and is directed by the award-winning Firenza Guidi. For the first time, NoFit State Circus will incorporate seating into their traditional Big Top Tent to place audiences right into the heart of the performance.
The New Vic will stage a brand new play – Astley’s Astounding Adventures (Sat 7 July – Sat 28 July) – written by Staffordshire-born Frazer Flintham, which will dramatise Astley’s journey from humble beginnings to international impresario. Combining the thrill of the circus with the uniqueness of theatre-in-the-round, New Vic Artistic Director Theresa Heskins will direct this theatrical extravaganza.
The Victoria & Albert Museum collaborate with the New Vic for CIRCUS!, an outdoor photography exhibition presented in the heart of Newcastle-under-Lyme that will showcase the V&A’s archive collection of circus material. The bespoke exhibition will be displayed in the town centre from April – July 2018.
The New Vic will also bring Circolombia – the inspirational Colombian circus company – to Newcastle-under-Lyme as part of the programme of events. Presenting their production Acéléré, the company join the celebrations in May 2018.
Other events included in Circus Past, Present and Future include Cabinet of Curiosities, an immersive performance created by the New Vic for younger audience members; Circus Party in the Park, a spectacular family-focused experience created in partnership with, and performed in the grounds of The Brampton Museum and Art Gallery; and Roll Up Roll Up, a professionally-led community performance developed and delivered in partnership with The Philip Astley Project (led by Staffordshire University). Two exhibitions centred on NoFit State Circus will take place alongside the performances of LEXICON. Alongside the whole programme of events, the New Vic and NoFit State will also host a Talent and Leadership programme, designed to provide focused support for young and emergent cultural leaders within the field of Circus and Theatre. This will include Circus 50:50, an artist development programme that will bring together circus and theatre-makers to explore different approaches to creating work together, developed in partnership with Roundhouse and Upswing.
Artistic Director of the New Vic, Theresa Heskins said: “Circus traverses boundaries, crossing languages, continents and even the centuries to appeal to audiences of all ages. Next year offers us the chance to celebrate it as an artform and to shine a spotlight on Newcastle-under-Lyme, the place where Philip Astley, its creator, was born. We have a longstanding relationship with circus at the New Vic through our produced work and through our Creative People and Places programme, Appetite. In 2018, we’re excited that we can take our relationship with circus to the next level with support from Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence investment. We’ll be working with companies of national and international-acclaim including NoFit State Circus, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Circolombia, Roundhouse and many more and our celebrations will coincide with the national Circus250 celebrations. We can’t wait to share our work with audiences.”
Tom Rack, Artistic Director of NoFit State said: “To be unveiling our new show, LEXICON, in Astley’s hometown of Newcastle-under-Lyme with the New Vic feels really special. In LEXICON, audiences can expect to see heart-in-your-mouth circus theatre with a nod to the old ways; extraordinary circus, innovative design, and powerful live music for an audience in the round. We want to recreate the first memories of circus that we all remember – and the same feelings of awe and pure wonder that audiences were left with 250 years ago.”
Circus Past, Present and Future will take place in Newcastle-under-Lyme at the New Vic and in various locations across the Town Centre between March and August in 2018. More details of the programme of events are available at newvictheatre.org.uk. Tickets for LEXICON are on sale now, priced from £10.00.