Newcastle-under-Lyme named one of six Cities of Circus for 2018

"We are delighted to be involved with this initiative as a Department and as a University. Students will be working closely with the Borough Museum to research, rehearse and create characters based on real people living and working with the Philip Astley family."

Rob Marsden, Associate Professor of Acting and Directing

Newcastle-under-Lyme will be a hub for circus celebrations in 2018 after being named as one of the six Cities of Circus for 2018 by Circus250.

The Philip Astley Project, managed by Staffordshire University, and The New Vic theatre will lead events throughout the year designed to champion the legacy of local hero Philip Astley – the father of modern circus, celebrate the phenomenon of the artform and further develop the town as a nationally recognised destination for drama, dance and circus.

Newcastle-under-Lyme was chosen to host events by Circus250, the national organisation coordinating celebrations of the circus' 250th anniversary.

The Philip Astley Project will host a series of talks held 'In Conversation…' with Andrew Van Buren, an exhibition Philip Astley – His Life and Legacy held at the Brampton Museum, and a short circus film season at the Stoke Film Theatre.

Students from Staffordshire University's Drama courses will also take part in performances inspired by Philip Astley at The Brampton Museum in May.

Rob Marsden, Associate Professor of Acting and Directing, said: “We are delighted to be involved with this initiative as a Department and as a University. Students will be working closely with the Borough Museum to research, rehearse and create characters based on real people living and working with the Philip Astley family. As a connected university, Staffordshire students will be working in a real world environment for this launch event.”

In addition, Dr Carmel Thomason, Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Staffordshire University, will research aspects of Philip Astley's story to create a Resource Pack for community groups to continue learning about Astley beyond 2018.

Philip Astley was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1742 to a local cabinetmaker. In 1759, he joined the 15th Light Dragoons, the first Light Cavalry Regiment of the British Army and was later chosen to be instructed in a new method of riding.

He drew out the very first circus ring in 1768 and 42 feet remains the standard size of circus ring used around the world. From his initial experimentations, Astley went on to develop circus as we know it today, forever putting Newcastle-under-Lyme on the national map as the birthplace of the father of modern circus.

The New Vic, supported by Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence programme, will produce Circus Past, Present and Future, a season of work celebrating the remarkable artform in its anniversary year. Circus Past, Present and Future will see the theatre-in-the-round produce a brand new play in July written by Staffordshire-born Frazer Flintham. Astley's Astounding Adventures will be directed by Artistic Director Theresa Heskins and will combine the thrill of the circus with the uniqueness of theatre-in-the-round.

Theresa Heskins, New Vic Artistic Director, said: “It's fantastic that Newcastle-under-Lyme has been named as one of the six Cities of Circus for 2018 by Circus250. Circus traverses boundaries, crossing languages, continents and even the centuries to appeal to audiences of all ages. Next year offers the New Vic the chance to celebrate it as an artform and to shine a spotlight on our home - Newcastle-under-Lyme - the place where Philip Astley, its creator, was born.”

More details about the New Vic's Circus Past, Present and Future season of work can be found at www.newvictheatre.org.uk For details of The Philip Astley Project, including details of events for 2018, visit www.philipastley.org.uk