The Life Of A Festival Assistant

by Alex Franks Festival Assistant 2017

19.12.2017

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Into The Vaults We Go: The Life of a Festival Assistant


In the beginning of 2017 I took a weekly and rather religious pilgrimage to the tube station of Waterloo. Once exiting the station I would walk straight down into the massive tunnel. I would find beautiful graffiti pieces, smell the spray paint and finally see the sign for VAULT Festival. Just outside of two doors that blended into the wall. These doors would hold unexpected rooms ranging from caverns to small storage looking spaces. Rooms, that with the help of a dedicated creative team and Festival Assistants (including you, you beautiful, intelligent, funny and charming future Festival Assistant), would play host to some of the most exciting/new artistic work and parties that brought delight to all those who attended. If you haven’t figured it out by that sentence, I really loved being a Festival Assistant.

As an international theatre student from Canada. I knew nothing of the theatre scene in London and outside of my classes, didn’t have much of a chance to meet anyone else. My classmate then posted on our Facebook group the call out for Festival Assistants. I became interested to get to know a festival in London and gain some practical work experience.

My first reaction to the building came in two parts. The first being, how the hell are we gonna turn this place into a festival venue in such a short period of time? The second is that I stepped into an alternate world. Hidden away in that tunnel, the festival truly does feel like a whole different universe filled with such a wide variety of shows and a social gathering of artists and patrons. Obviously the first one changed right away as the creative team are terrific leaders in setting up spaces so efficiently and there is a passion that drives the work forward. My second opinion never changed as the Festival truly feels like a whole other world filled with new exciting things every week to explore.

It’s not all easy goings though. Given that this one of the largest theatre festivals in the UK, there comes challenges when working an event of this scale. The most challenging bit was the fast paced nature of the festival. There is such a quick turnaround of shows and audiences that it can be a bit overwhelming. In addition the vast number of people coming into the venues and seeing shows can be dizzying. VAULT Festival is also a place where the moment you enter, your energy goes up quite a few levels. It can all be quite exhausting and if you are like me and you stayed until the bar closed every night! My advice is try and get as much as sleep as possible and remember you are not alone in this. Festival Assistants, Security, Venue Stage Managers, Technical crew, the Heads of Department and the artists – everyone around you is committed to making the festival a success so you are never alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for support, you can count on your team to help you out.

What I enjoyed most about the role were the benefits and the community that I was working in. As a Festival Assistant you will have the opportunity to see so many shows for free, ranging from comedies, circus, drama, film and music to name a few. Every time I walked into the venue I felt like I was in an artistic haven. In addition I enjoyed a great deal of benefits like free entry into the late night events which are these massive parties with theatrical elements that make them stand out from regular night club outings. Also discount food and drinks which are always delicious makes being in the venue when you are not on shift all the more worth it.

If I had to pick my top three moments from the festival I would have to go with:

1. The fact that in one day I saw an immersive circus show, an improvised Tim Burton style musical and a serious drama about mental health. It really spoke to the wide variety of work that happens at the festival.

2. The burlesque late night event where dancing was connected with fantastic burlesque performances and also getting to try on burlesque outfits. Somewhere out there in the vast internet, there is a photo of me with other Festival Assistants in burlesque bras. I REGRET NOTHING.

3. During the day before the evening show and party madness starts, we also have smaller companies come in offering demos of products or smaller shows. One company brought in a VR set so I got to have my first experience with VR. It makes coming to the venue before the evening worth it to see what activities we have going on.

It breaks my heart that I won’t be at VAULT Festival this year but I certainly hope you will apply and get to experience the awesomeness that is the festival! If I have any other advice to give, it is that you take full advantage of this amazing opportunity. See a free unique show, attend a party with your colleagues and have a drink for what is one of the most exciting festivals you will ever experience in your life!

Alexander is 23 and originally from Canada. He recently finished a postgraduate degree in Advanced Theatre Practice from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. The program was devoted to the devising and creation of new work and in the time since VAULT Festival 2017 he has devised an immersive theatre parody with a colleague called, “Cheaters and Cheatees: The Time Travelling Game,” which premiered at COLAB Factory. Recently he has returned home to Mississauga, Ontario Canada to work on the Canadian Dramatic Arts scene. He has been signed as an actor to Choice Talent Agency and is in talks to assistant direct a production based on the American avant-garde musician John Cage. He likes kittens, sushi, beer, wine and long walks on the beach talking about stuff.