Circus in the spotlight as exhibition opens in Sheffield

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A major new exhibition celebrating 250 show-stopping years of circus in Great Britain is up and running at Sheffield’s Weston Park Museum this summer.

Shining a spotlight on the remarkable stories behind the much-loved spectacle, Circus! Show of Shows bring one of the world’s most famous circus paintings to the city to go on show alongside a dazzling array of costumes, props, rare historic posters, films, archive photographs and more. It can be seen there until November 4.

In 1768 in London, Phillip Astley unveiled a show which, for the very first time, combined equestrianism, clowning and acrobatics within a now iconic circular ring. This ground-breaking performance marked the birth of a global phenomenon; 250 years later, circus continues to amaze and astound audiences, showcasing the talents of legions of impossibly skilled performers in shows around the world.

Circus! Show of Shows delves into the drama of the big top to explore some of the hidden histories and most fascinating figures in the circus story. This brand new exhibition in Sheffield is one of three taking place across the country in 2018 co-created by one of the UK’s foremost circus experts, Professor Vanessa Toulmin from the University of Sheffield’s School of English, and supported by National Lottery players through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

At Weston Park Museum, Circus! Show of Shows will explore the hidden histories of women in circus and black circus artists, as well as the city’s own circus heritage. Visitors will also learn more about the changing attitudes to animals in circus and see the enduring influence circus has had on popular culture.

The exhibition will feature a host of significant national and international loans alongside an unparalleled array of material drawn The University of Sheffield Library’s National Fairground and Circus Archive and Sheffield Libraries and Archives.