Conference and speakers

Keynote speaker

Dr Marius Kwint, University of Portsmouth

Dr Marius Kwint is Reader in Visual Culture at the University of Portsmouth, mainly teaching on the historical and theoretical element of the art and design curriculum. His doctoral thesis at the University of Oxford was on the origins of the circus in late eighteenth-century England, with research published in the leading journal Past and Present (2002) and in the Cambridge Companion to Theatre History (2013). More recent projects have included guest curating an exhibition on the brain in material and visual culture at Wellcome Collection in 2012 and MSI Manchester in 2013 and co-curating an exhibition of contemporary art on the theme of borders at the 2015 Venice Biennale, entitled Frontiers Reimagined, with New York and Asia-based gallerist Sundaram Tagore.

Confirmed speakers

Dr Julia Calver, Leeds Beckett University, and Rebecca Truman, Bradford

Dr Julia Calver is a Senior Lecturer at the UK Centre for Events Management (UKCEM) at Leeds Beckett University. Her research interests explore organisational behaviour of the creative sector and she is currently relishing a collaboration with Becky Truman – Skinning the Cat on the creative business of circus. Previous to her academic career Julia was Manager of the Creative Industries Sector Group for the West Yorkshire Lifelong Learning Network following ten years at Arts Council England developing strategic partnerships between the cultural, creative and education sectors. In July 2017 she became an Arts Council Arts Quality Assessor for the combined arts sector and an external examiner at University of Lincoln. In her spare time, she runs festivals.

Rebecca Truman, circus aerialist, artist and writer,  launched Skinning the Cat – Circus of the Sky, the UK’s first outdoor aerial company, producing ground-breaking narrative and character-based shows in 1988. The company toured internationally until 2012, establishing a unique style, which brought together Rebecca’s skills as a performer, costumier, rig designer and artistic director. The company appeared in cabaret, circus, variety, pantomime and corporate entertainments. It was an important part of the company’s identity that it was an all-woman organisation. Skinning the Cat (which takes its name from a traditional trapeze move) is, by its inclusion in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s permanent collection and in the National Circus Archive at the University of Sheffield, recognised as a forerunner of the contemporary circus movement. Rebecca has recently published the book Aerialst – the colourful life of a trapeze artist.

Gareth H. H. Davies

Gareth H.H. Davies is a speaker and author specialising in 19th and 20th century. His publications on popular culture and entertainment include: The Clown King: Popular Entertainment 1840-1860 (2015), Pablo Fanque and the Victorian Circus (2017), Forgotten Yarmouth Entertainments: Reflections of Popular Culture in a 19th century Seaside Resort (2017).

Jon Davison, London

Jon Davison is a clown performer, teacher, director, researcher, writer and musician with more than 35 years’ experience. He is currently director of the London Clown School, and teaching regularly at other institutions around Britain and internationally. He was a co-founder and co-Director of Studies at the Escola de Clown de Barcelona and previously taught clown, impro, and acting at the Institut del Teatre de Barcelona. He was a Research Fellow at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (University of London), where he is now a visiting lecturer. He is the author of “Clown: Readings in Theatre Practice” and “Clown Training, a practical guide”, and is currently writing the textbooks “The Clowning Workbook” and “Clown Theory”. He is artistic director of the clown companies Stupididity and Citizens of Nowhere.

Dr Margarete Fuchs, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany

Dr Margarete Fuchs is a lecturer at the Department for German Literature at the University of Marburg; between 1998 and 2015 she studied German Literature and Philosophy at the University of Tübingen and finished her PhD 2012 in Marburg. Her particular interests lay in literature theory, visual studies, circus and literature, gender studies, theatre theory and popular culture among others.

Teo Greenstreet, Greentop Circus, Sheffield

Teo Greenstreet started life as a clown, unicyclist and project leader as founder of Sheffield’s Leadmill Circus in the early 80s, training in Paris. He was Circus Development Worker for Arts Council for 2 years prior to being co-founder and then Chief Executive of The Circus Space (now the National Centre for Circus Arts) for 15 years. Teo stepped away from circus for 10 year to run a number of other organisations, including The Media Centre and Encounters and consulting for numerous creative and cultural businesses. This inevitably brought him back to circus to help in the revival of Greentop Community Circus Centre where he is currently Centre Director and continues as a cultural industry consultant.

Rose Gridneff, Kingston School of Art

Rose Gridneff is Associate Professor and Course Leader for ba (Hons) Graphic Design at Kingston School of Art. A design practitioner working with letterpress, she has exhibited and lectured internationally, at aiga (usa), College Arts Association (usa), Plantin Moretus Museum (Antwerp), Archivio di Sacchi (Milan) and ATypI (Barcelona). Her research interests include the role of craft, letterpress and the archive within design education. Her paternal grandparents had an unsupported ladder act and toured with many prominent circuses during the twentieth century.

Dr Layachi El Habbouch, Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University, Fes, Morocco

Dr Layachi El Habbouch is Assistant Professor of English Literature and Media and Cultural Studies. He is an early career researcher working on North-African artistic and cultural encounters with Britain and America. He got his PhD on Moroccan Professional Entertainers in Britain in the 19th and early 20th Centuries in 2014. He has some special research focus on postcolonial, cultural, gender, performance and immigration studies and has recently started some serious academic interest in Anthropology Colonial Cultural Histories and Moroccan Professional entertainments. He is interested in reviving cross-cultural memories between Morocco and the Anglophone world through establishing connections between academic research and creative and cultural industries where genres of performance and nations are brought together as reminders of past encounters. He is particularly keen on developing documentary films on Moroccan professional entertainers beyond borders from the 19th century up to now.

Dr Kate Holmes, Bristol

Dr Kate Holmes is an Independent Researcher who has recently completed an AHRC funded PhD in Drama at the University of Exeter entitled ‘Aerial stars: Femininity, Celebrity and Glamour in the Representations of Female Aerialists in the UK and USA in the 1920s and Early 1930s’. This research explores the celebrity of aerial stars of this period using approaches that range from examining spatial performance practices to female physical culture. Her research has been published in Early Popular Visual Culture and is forthcoming in Stage Women, a collection of essays on early twentieth century female performers edited by Maggie Gale and Kate Dorney.

Rosie Kelly, Leeds

Rosie Kelly began in a community youth circus learning all the skills they had to offer, from diablo to trapeze. She found her calling in juggling and has been busy practising ever since! Performing at festivals, street shows, the Edinburgh Fringe, host of the British Young Juggler of the Year 2013 and The British Juggling Associations Gala Show in 2017, she now has turned to organising of circus shows and events. Her next upcoming event is CATCH! Cumbrias first week long circus festival. She studied moving image, film and animation at university and is obsessed with cartoons.

Eric McGill, Cardiff

Eric McGill is a Canadian swinging trapeze artist based in the United Kingdom. Eric started his acrobatic career at the age of seven as a competitive trampolinist.  In 2010 Eric graduated from the National Circus School in Montreal. With his swinging trapeze and aerial straps acts he has worked in cabarets, big tented shows and large outdoor festivals around the world including Germany, Mexico, Australia, Canada, and the UK to name a few. Eric is currently based out of Cardiff where he frequently works with the Nofit State Circus and Pirates of the Carabina.

Stav Meishar, New York, USA

Stav Meishar is a NYC-based multidisciplinary stage artist, creator and performer, including elements of theater, circus, music and dance in her performances. Since childhood she was training and working as a professional actress, developing experiences as an aerial dancer, singer, playwright, and musician through later years. In 2012, Stav founded the performance company Petite Mort Productions, committed to help developing different multidisciplinary facets of performance. The company produced her play The Dreamer and the Acrobat in 2013. Stav had her circus debut with the aerial act The Megile of Itzik Manger in 2013. Currently, she performs mostly as aerial dancer at circus venues and works as a child educator with her organization Dreamcoat Experience.

Deborah Sanderson and Joe Williams, Urban Angels Theatre Company, Leeds

Deborah Sanderson worked for numerous theatre companies and venues including Pilot Theatre Company and Manchester Royal Exchange after graduating from the University of Leeds. Then she discovered circus through working at outdoor festivals and toured Europe with Exponential. Her company Urban Angels Circus was founded in 2002, creating epic full length shows on beautiful curved aerial rigs. The performances combine theatrical imagery and cerebral content with a high level of skill. Conversely, she collaborates with numerous artists; video, textiles, photographers to make small scale shows including the highly acclaimed one woman show, ‘Wing and a Prayer’. Deborah works as a freelance circus performer, directs shows for other organisations and runs occasional projects with Leeds City College and an FMP project for University of Leeds.

Joe Williams is a 2018/19 Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Leeds School of Fine Art and Cultural Studies. He is a Leeds born actor/writer with a background in community arts development and currently generates projects on the African presence in Yorkshire. Joe is the founder of Heritage Corner and the Leeds Black History Walk. His research into Pablo Fanque formed the core of his MA at the University of Leeds (SPCI), in 2014, resulting in the one-man show ‘The Fishes of Isis’. Whilst this play explored Fanque’s career and positive African heritage through the Nubian goddess Isis, the current project ‘Oh, Susannah’, explores the working relationship with the Victorian circus owner’s wife, Susannah Darby.

Dr Olga L. Sorzano, London

Dr Olga Lucía Sorzano is a visiting lecturer in Sociology at the City University of London, where she just completed her PhD in Culture and Creative Industries. She also has a BA in Economics and an MSc in Economic and Social Policy Analysis. She has extensive experience of policy making in Colombia and Britain in the areas of education, culture and international relations. Parallel to this, she has worked with circus organisations such as the National School Circo Para Todos (Circus for All) in Colombia and the London based production company Circolombia. Her current academic work is focused in the analysis of invisible figures and the recognition of circus in the 21st century, with special emphasis in Colombia and Britain.

Prof Vanessa Toulmin, University of Sheffield

Prof Vanessa Toulmin is the founder and Research Director of the National Fairground and Circus Archive. In 1997, she completed her PhD and was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal for outstanding achievement. She became a Professor taking a Chair in Early Film and Popular Entertainment in 2007. She is also the Director of City and Culture, Head of Public Engagement at the University of Sheffield and Curator and Producer of Festival of the Mind and Ideas Bazaar. She is the author of several books, including ‘The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon’, ‘Electric Edwardians’, and ‘Pleasurelands’ as well as three volumes on the history of Blackpool. She has extensively published in internationally recognised journals and curated many exhibitions.


Deadline for call for contributions

We invite you to send your proposals for presentations and talks of 20 minutes for any topic related to the history of circus, preferably focused between the 19th and 20th century. These proposals can be written abstracts of 200-250 words, short videos or voice recordings. We especially invite PhD students, early career researchers and circus practitioners to participate. Relevant proposals from outside of the discipline of history are highly welcome.

Written, filmed or recorded proposals should be sent to ( by Wednesday 31 January 2018.

In 2018, different institutions in the UK will celebrate the 250​th anniversary of the modern circus under the label Circus250. The conference ​The Circus and beyond will take this opportunity to explore the historical impacts of the circus, aiming to discuss new ways to contextualise these entertainments. It endeavours to bring together scholars interested in various aspects of circus, as a phenomenon as well as a form of performance, during the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. This focus, in turn, feeds into the growing scholarship in human-animal relations, and also becomes a window through which we can take a fresh look​ ​at​ ​the​ ​questions​ ​of​ ​imperialism,​ ​exoticism,​ ​urbanity,​ ​body,​ ​and​ ​performativity​ ​of​ ​the​ ​self. The study of the circus becomes an excellent tool to compare new research paths on the history of popular culture. It also helps to deepen the relationship between mass culture and politics, between high and low culture. Furthermore, its analysis brings into light the history of childhood and leisure time as the children were and still are one of the main audience​ ​for​ ​circus​ ​entertainments.

In this regard we intend to arrange a community outreach programme by utilising the National Fairground and Circus Archive held here at the University of Sheffield. ​We aim to make effective use of the rich repository of historical material available at the archive, and are in contact with local schools and museums to set up fun, interactive and informative sessions to bring together both children and their families to think about the history of the circus and its legacy. Through these we hope to generate thoughts about what the circus has​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​different​ ​generations,​ ​and​ ​its​ ​place​ ​within​ ​their​ ​consciousness​ ​as​ ​a​ ​community.

Read About Our Community Work: Circus and the City Outreach Workshops

Circus is one of the most important avenues to understand the modern world. In exploring ideas of representation, identity, and commemoration, the conference addresses the historical importance of popular culture, thereby bridging the gap between academia and the wider public. The conference will not only deliver panels from scholars, particularly early career​ ​and​ ​PhD​ ​researchers,​ ​but​ ​invite​ ​circus​ ​artists​ ​and​ ​practitioners​ ​to​ ​participate.

The​ ​topics​ ​of​ ​the​ ​conference​ ​are​ ​based​ ​on​ ​the​ ​following​ ​but​ ​are​ ​not​ ​limited​ ​to:

1. Circus and popular culture studies​: How has the circus been represented in popular culture between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (e.g. cinema, print)? What is its​ ​relationship​ ​with​ ​elite​ ​culture?​ ​How​ ​was​ ​circus​ ​represented​ ​in​ ​art?

2. Circus​ ​and​ ​political​ ​metaphors​:​ ​How​ ​did​ ​the​ ​circus become a space for global circulation of ideas and concepts of imperialism, colonialism and social order? How
were these concepts associated with the emotions that the show itself aroused? What role did the circus play for the imperial economy of (foreign) people and animals?

3. Circus bodies​: How did circus change our understanding of gender and sexuality through the presentation of different kinds of bodies? What influence did the circus have on cultural identities? What role do performativity of the self and commodified bodies​ ​play​ ​in​ ​the​ ​circus? How did circus influence human-animal relations?

4. Circus as a space: ​How did circus connect with local space and identity? Does the circus​ ​connect​ ​or​ ​divide​ ​different​ ​countries? What role did circus play in the modernisation of urban landscapes? In which way did the circus link global and local economies?

Can you talk about circus? We are interested in your perspective of what circus history and circus in history is. You can find a short video for the call for contributions here: