NORTH East singing star Joe McElderry will be supporting Sunderland students as they begin staging a takeover at one of the region’s popular arts venues for a month-long programme of entertainment.

Joe, who rose to fame when he won ITV’s The X-Factor in 2009 and has since carved out a successful solo music career, will return to the Customs House in South Shields, the venue where it all began for him, to help officially launch Sunfest, the annual creative arts partnership.

For the last two years, students from the University of Sunderland’s Faculty of Arts, Design and Media have entered into a unique partnership with the Customs House, during the month of May to stage their own exciting programme of theatre, dance and visual arts.

Customs House

Now in its third year, the success of Sunfest has been extended to include performances at Arts Centre Washington.

The Sunfest launch night takes place on Monday, April 29, where specially invited guests, including Joe, will be treated to a medley of the music, dance and drama audiences can expect to enjoy over the coming month.

As a former performing arts student himself, Joe knows only too well what it’s like to be an aspiring young artist looking to get their first foot on the entertainments industry ladder.


Joe, from South Shields, who also won ITV show Popstar To Operastar in 2011, proving that he was still unbeatable when performing under pressure on live television, said: “I think Sunfest is a brilliant idea. I always love seeing young people perform and being nurtured and helped along the way.

“I am really excited to see their work on stage.”

Joe joins a prominent list of actors and entertainers including Melanie Hill, Wendy Craig, Jade Thirlwall and Sunderland band Frankie and the Heartstrings, to throw their support behind the student-led event.

Sunfest was launched to offer something diverse and exciting to regular Customs House visitors, as well as attracting a new audience to the Mill Dam venue. It also offers all the students involved the practical experience to work in an established organisation and take what they’re learning in higher education to a live audience

Graeme Thompson, Dean of Arts, Design and Media at the University of Sunderland, said: “We are delighted that Joe is supporting this year’s Sunfest. He is a natural talent and has done so much to raise aspirations among young performers.”

He added: “Sunfest gives our students the experience of planning, producing and performing shows for a paying audience. It’s an invaluable experience.

“It’s a tremendous showcase and platform for our students and a terrific advertisement for the range of music, drama and dance on offer at the university.


“I am grateful to our friends at the Customs House for again providing this opportunity for our students.  We’re also delighted to announce that this year Arts Centre Washington is also joining Sunfest, proving that this event is growing in strength each year.”

Customs House Executive Director Ray Spencer, MBE, said: “Joe is a great supporter of The Customs House and we are delighted he is backing Sunfest and giving the students the boost they deserve.

“The students bring a dash of verve and panache to all their performances and it’s a great platform for those who wish to develop a professional career on the stage.”

Some of the highlights during Sunfest include performances of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and All My Sons, and the abridged version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Titus Andronicus at Arts Centre Washington in Fatfield.

At the Customs House, audiences will be treated to an eclectic month-long mix of dance, drama, music and media from a Beatles tribute evening to Motown classics, a tribute to the life of Bob Fosse, an award winning stage version of Patrick McCabe’s novel The Butcher Boy, as well as students performing the modern classic Attempts On Her Life by Martin Crimp.

For a full programme of events and to book your tickets go to: