Programming the Largest Curated Arts Festival in the Universe (probably)!

by Gillian Greer Head of Theatre

VAULT Festival is a curious beast.

The largest curated arts festival certainly in the city, definitely the country, most likely the world (and so it stands to reason, the universe), we constantly strive to balance accessibility with quality, fresh new voices with boisterous crowd pleasers, good nights out with gut-punching theatre. In our experience, the best of our shows are often all of the above.

The strand I am responsible for, Theatre and Performance, makes up more than half of VAULT Festival’s output this year. That’s over 200 exciting new shows from an incredibly diverse selection of creative teams, selected from over 900 applications. While our programme may seem big, for every show programmed at the Festival, 3 more received the dreaded email beginning with ‘Unfortunately…’. As an artist, I know that that email never gets less painful. So, it was incredibly important to me upon joining the VAULT Festival team that the system we used to build our programme was responsible, thorough, fair and transparent, with diverse programming and bold decision-making at its heart. It also had to be FAST.

From the moment the deadline passed on 29th August right through to mid-October, our team has been working tirelessly to read, consider, process and programme each and every one of our applications. Eight readers with a wide range of perspectives and experiences were selected – some members of the VAULT Steering Team, some artists who had made work at the festival before, some dramaturgs with little experience at VAULT but with an incredible eye for spotting talent. They were each assigned a reading partner, someone with a totally different approach to themselves, and each pair was assigned 200 applications.

These applications, along with script samples, video material, audio recordings, sketches and all manner of other supporting material were read and scored twice out of ten, with partners frequently jousting over applications on which they disagreed. An external panel of Third Readers were brought in to break deadlocks, and the whole process ended with a Round Table discussion, where the programme finally began to take shape. Then, with the wisdom and mentorship of Head of Production Andy George, the process of matching the right show with the right dates and venue began.

Early on in the process, we talked at length about what readers should be looking for in applications. Our process was primarily idea-driven – applications with bold and coherent new ideas were celebrated above all else. The strength of your creative team and how ‘polished’ the idea was were important considerations, but ultimately secondary ones. It became increasingly clear that we all agreed that above all else, VAULT Festival 2019 would be a place for beginnings, for experimentation, for fierce artists with bold new ideas and dynamic and fresh perspectives. We wanted shows that dealt with the zeitgeist yes, but more importantly we wanted work that told us something we didn’t know before, that made us think or made us feel, that forced us to examine our convictions, made us laugh until we cried or cry until we laughed. We genuinely believe that this programme represents the most talented and fearless artists who applied to us this year and we are so incredibly excited to welcome them underground.

We are really proud of the diversity of our Festival this year, but realise that we as an industry have a long way to go. Year on year, well over 50% of VAULT Festival’s output defines itself as Female-led, but often many of these incredible female creatives struggle to make the jump from places like VAULT Festival to mid and large-scale venues. We are incredibly excited to support every last one of these amazing women, but we would be even happier to see them graduate to the next level of the theatre ecology with the same ease as their male counterparts.

We also strive to programme as many voices from underrepresented communities as we possibly can, and we have a higher percentage of artists of colour, artists who identify as disabled and LGBTQIA+ artists at the Festival this year than ever before. But, we recognise we still have a lot of work to do. There isn’t enough colour in our industry, both on our stages and off, in the work we create and in the people who decide what work is made. Financial barriers often mean that working class artists are locked out of the festival scene. With the most accessible financial deal possible and a rigorous and transparent selection process that has diversity as a core aim, Team VAULT Festival are dedicated supporting little-heard and little-supported voices above and beyond all else.

Artistic Directors and programmers take note – the future of your industry is right under your noses. We hope to see you underground very, very soon.

Introducing Our New Programming Panel

by Josh Morrall Head of Communications

The deadline for applications for VAULT Festival 2019 is Friday 24th August. Click here to apply.

A lot has changed since VAULT Festival closed its doors for another year back in March.

VAULT 2018 broke all our previous records and exceeded our wildest expectations. We hosted more shows than ever before, created by hundreds of talented artists from a variety of backgrounds, and welcomed more than 70,000 audience members to enjoy it all. We’ve come a long way since we opened in 2012.

We knew that in order to keep up this incredible momentum and to make sure the festival maintained the high-standards set by the artists, performers and producers who have made it possible throughout the years, we needed to make some pretty big changes.

To ensure VAULT continues to deliver exciting and diverse ideas to our audiences whilst offering a fair and supportive platform for both established and emerging artists from all backgrounds and walks-of-life, we have introduced three new roles that will head up our programming panel for VAULT 2019.

We are delighted to welcome Gillian Greer as Head of Theatre, Bríd Kirby as Head of Comedy, and Laura Drake Chambers as Head of Lates. Gillian currently works as Senior Reader at the National Theatre and has worked as a writer, script reader and dramaturg. Bríd programmed our comedy festival for VAULT 2018 and specialises in creatively producing new writing and innovative comedy. Laura is a visual artist, Art Director and Creative Producer who founded Shotgun Carousel in 2013 and specialises in creating spectacular late night events.

These new members of the team will oversee the programming process and ensure that every application we receive is read in detail by our extended programming panel made up of representatives from the arts industry, artists and creatives, and our very own staff members.

Programming has always been one of the most difficult parts of creating the festival each year. In 2017 we received more than 1,100 applications and it was the duty of a very small team to sift through them all. It is vitally important to us that we give due care and consideration to every single one of those applications, and with even more applications expected this year, we knew that we had to be prepared.

We want VAULT to be the people’s festival. To showcase work that is entertaining and challenging for our engaged audience, creating an environment where artists feel safe to try out new things and develop their creative voice.

We’re often asked what our process for programming VAULT Festival is, and if there is a secret formula or guaranteed way of a show getting ‘in’. The truth is, we’re not looking for any one thing in particular and there is no sure-fire way to get into the programme. We aim to be as transparent as possible in everything we do, and programming is no different.

So what are we looking for? We favour proposals from artists and productions which have a distinct voice and will benefit from being a part of the festival. We don’t need fully formed ideas with a completed script and a team in place, but we do ask that companies know who their audience are and have considered the practicalities of staging their show at VAULT. Above all, we value honesty. Who you are – whether an individual or a team – is vitally important. The festival doesn’t work without a supportive community.

From the application deadline an intensive reading process begins. This takes us a minimum of four weeks during which time every single application is read by at least two members of the team. An application is never rejected outright at this stage and we carefully consider whether a show is right for the festival. This is the hardest part of the job for all involved. There are various reasons a show might be turned down, but more often than not it’s because there simply isn’t enough space for us to programme everything we want to.

We aim to make VAULT 2019 the best festival we possibly can, and we think this is a promising start. If you want join us underground and be part of next year’s festival, now is the time to apply! Applications close on Friday 24th August at 18:00, so head over to our brand new Application Guide and get started.

Unexplored Territory: The Future Of Interactive Theatre

By Becky Brown & Oscar Blustin SPECIFIQ

SPECIFIQ is an immersive theatre and events company, founded in 2011. SPECIFIQ stories have explored a variety of sites, formats and media. From full-scale theatrical shows, immersive events and educational workshops, to digital engagement and other forms of entertainment, they are constantly looking for new ways to tell our stories. Ruckus, created with Rogue Productions, takes place at VAULT 2018 on Saturday 17th March.

I think it’s fair to say the word ‘immersive’ is overused.

It used to have a mysterious, transgressive feel, enigmatic and anarchic and unpredictable. It used to feel risque, drawing a brave, adventurous audience willing to leave their comfort zone and explore an often darker, more dangerous-seeming world. Recently however, the word has become a marketing buzzword, slapped on anything even slightly out-of-the-ordinary. I recently walked past an ‘immersive’ housing development in North East London.

Despite this, the word has some use – as a broad umbrella term for an ever-expanding group of non-traditional theatrical forms, encompassing everything from 1-on-1 shows to site-specific, promenade, interactive, game-based, choice-based, participatory, experiential, whatever you want to call them. Anything that does more than sit its audience in a dark box and point them at a story.

As a maker of this sort of format-challenging work, it often feels like you’re constantly covering new, unexplored ground. This is in fact rarely the case, but from the inside the obstacles you meet as soon as you venture out of a theatre are extensive, and the systems in place to deal with them sparse or non-existent. In traditional theatre, if you need a lighting designer, you advertise for a lighting designer. If you’re converting an office block into a usable theatrical space, you might need two different types of electricians before you are in a position to find a lighting designer, and the familiar mentor-mentee relationships that theatre relies and thrives on are few and far between for this sort of work.

So. A few years ago we started something named The Gunpowder Plot – a network for artists, designers, technicians, journalists, venues, producers, commissioners – anyone with an interest in or experience with non-traditional theatre. A group of people aware that boundary-pushing is as difficult, as rewarding, and as likely to fail as anything, but that pooling our knowledge and experience would be essential for ‘immersive’ in all its forms to ever graduate from the fringe into the mainstream.

There are two types of meetings – a monthly discussion group capped at 15, touching base about new shows and formats, keeping track of industry developments, sharing commission opportunities and useful contacts, and debating different aspects of this constantly evolving field. There are a few core members who’ve been with us since the start, but we try and rotate attendees as much as possible, suiting the invites to the discussion topic of the month. The second type of meeting is a big ol’ networking event, and that’s where VAULT comes in.

For the first time this year, VAULT Festival hosted Unit 9 – a dedicated immersive venue, offering a selection of boundary-pushing shows in different formats. From the immersive-VR-hybrid horror show Pendulum, to the escape-the-room style The Lifeboat and playable interactive game Revolution, Unit 9 invited its audiences to get involved, telling stories through experience rather than purely through witness. We hosted a big Gunpowder Plot meet up last weekend at VAULT Festival to celebrate this work, make new connections and continue to build the network as more and more immersive work emerges throughout 2018. Our 90 available spaces at this free event were snapped up in a matter of days, and we’ll be expanding before next time, hopefully reaching beyond London to invite non-traditional theatre makers and supporters from across the UK.

Many of the original Gunpowder Plotters continue to collaborate and feed their expertise back into the group – differencEngine are on the cusp of a large-scale show announcement, Lab Collective host regular industry-leading workshops on the unique techniques and skills that go into creating interactive work, and the final Late of VAULT Festival 2018 sees SPECIFIQ team up once again with Dean Rodgers of Rogue Productions for RUCKUS, an immersive St Patrick’s Day party with the Irish Mob.

Click here to join the mailing list for the Gunpowder Plot and be included in occasional mail-outs about our meetings, events and other industry-specific information. Or follow us on social media to keep up with all we are up to

We look forward to you joining us at the next Gunpowder Plot.

Becky Brown & Oscar Blustin

Something Old, Something New, Something Beautifully Batshit

Guest Blog

By Adam Riches Edinburgh Comedy Award winner whose show Five Nights Inside Adam Riches plays at VAULT Festival 2018 from 28 Feb – 04 Mar.

Howard Stern once said the best part of any project is the announcement, the declaration. ‘This is what we are going to do, isn’t it great? Aren’t we great?!’ Nobody is more motivated and enthusiastic than they are at that particular point. Blue skies all round! But then, the mood changes and the clouds gather as you realise you then have to go and do it, whatever it is. You now have to go make that thing you just slapped yourself on the back about and that is one giant, almighty buzzkill. Cue a permanent slump of the shoulders, a collection of sighs that last a whole minute and a bunch of brows so furrowed you could till them and grow spuds.

As an actor, I couldn’t agree more. I love getting an email to say I have an audition. I then despise having to go and do them. I’m sure there are many, deep-seated psychological reasons why I feel this way… probably all to do with my mother. I’m sure her telling everyone she was pregnant must have been a way more enjoyable day than the one spent firing me out into existence. Either way, I have hardly helped this foible by agreeing to do five different shows on five different nights at VAULT Festival. I mean I say ‘agree’…no-one asked me to do this. It was all my idea. Quelle Twat…

Two nights of new material followed by three nights of old shows from back in the day. Five lots of props, costumes, tech and rehearsals, all for one night each. And please don’t even mention the lines… Surely there is a bloody good ‘why’ to justify all of this ‘what’? Well, yes, I think. I’m taking three shows up to the Fringe this year and wanted to get myself back in the mode of serious multi-tasking. But alongside that, the three old shows have very strong sentimental reasons for me and mark three very big career milestones.

‘Plat du Nuit’ (2003) was the first show I ever took to the Edinburgh Fringe and the whole experience was a complete an utter nightmare from the second we arrived. Poor decisions, poor advice, preposterous behaviours from people we had hired and then that traditional Fringe staple of just plain old bad luck. The whole experience left me shaken and lost to the point where I was unable to even contemplate writing or performing again for another year and a half. But without even realising, what the experience ultimately gave me proved far more valuable than what it momentarily took. I got a crash course in everything bad about this industry and that in turn instilled in me a steel core about how I would want to go ahead from that point on. The type of work I would want to make, the type of people I would want around to help make it and most importantly, the mindset to not give up on anything, including myself, if for one reason or another, things didn’t quite work out at any given point. Jim (who I share the stage with) and I have never performed this show since and so still have no idea if the show deserved the pounding it received all those years ago. We don’t think so, but I guess we’ll soon find out… Please. Be gentle.

‘Victor’ (2007) was the first solo show I took up and is proving the hardest to get back together. It’s a very simple one-hander, but my onstage style has changed a lot since this show. This one still bears the hallmarks of my theatrical background and as such demands a greater level of discipline. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still funny… I think… and the situation happening within still preposterous… it’s just a lot more dense, verbally.

To put it into some kind of context, my latest solo hour ‘Inane Chicanery’ is 13pgs long, in a Courier New font, sized 12 and features six characters with many pages just reading ‘GRAB AN AUDIENCE MEMBER’. ‘Victor’ is 20 pages long on the same sized font and has just one character in one setting talking non-stop. It’s Edinburgh story was interesting too. I was on at lunchtime in a Hut, did 27 shows, rarely to more than 5 people each day. Some laughed, some stared, some slept, some walked out, but I loved every minute.

We also had no reviews come out for the entire run right up until the last day, when three or four good ones arrived, which gave me all the currency I needed to bank myself a better slot in a better room the following year. I mean I broke my leg onstage in that show causing all manner of career devastation but still… Always think long-term, my friends. Nothing is decided good or bad from any one festival or show. Five stars or one stars always ends up with the same situation come September. You sit facing a blank screen with a flashing cursor asking you ‘Well, what next?’

‘Bring me the Head of Adam Riches’ (2011) is the show that won the Edinburgh Comedy Award and it was a riot from start to finish. I didn’t realise I had such a strong show whilst I was previewing in London and indeed the hour I teched on the Tuesday night before the Fringe opened had many significant differences from the one I decided to perform on the Wednesday. But once we started, it never really stopped. The changes I made really paid off… all to do with just a gut feeling rather than any real sense of informed judgement… and even though I didn’t think I was doing anything particularly different than I had in previous shows, it was clear that I had unknowingly got a little smarter at doing it and the audiences a little more receptive. It’s an exhausting hour for all involved, but all the better for it.

As for the two nights of new stuff? Well Thursday is a mixed bill of three of my favourite comedy people. Dan Cook I think is a wonderful talent. I fell in love with him a little bit when I first saw him perform in his old sketch group Delete the Banjax. He took a chance on me when he agreed to be part of my gigantic cast in the riskiest live show I have ever undertaken (‘Coach Coach’) and so I owe him a lot. But that’s between me, his people and Equity… Stevie Martin is another tremendous sketch performer from the superb and much-missed Massive Dad, who also stood toe-to-toe with me in ‘Coach Coach’. She is embarking on a real odyssey of her own this year with a solo show that from all the bits I have seen thus far, looks terrific fun. And John Kearns is a struggling newcomer that I have discovered on the circuit that I figured I would throw a bone. He also just so happens to be the best of us. By a country mile.

On Thursday 1st March, Dan and Stevie will also be joined by Ben Target, the first name on any of my team sheets since 2014, in helping me read excerpts from my next three live shows. ‘Coach Coach 2’, ‘The Lone Dueller’ and ‘The Guy Who…’ The seeds of three future VAULT excavations perhaps… NO. NEVER AGAIN.

Shaping The Future Of Female Comedy

Guest Blog

By Lynne Parker Founder & Executive Producer
Funny Women

Working in comedy for over 15 years I have learned that nothing should surprise you and that the mood and fashion for humour can change overnight. What I am certain of is that women are making their mark and long may this continue.

This year we celebrate 100 years since women first got the vote so I am particularly stoked that we broke all records for entries into our 2017 Funny Women Awards. Registrations totaled over 900 and I personally saw over 400 women perform live on stage around the UK & Ireland and we received over 250 scripts, 150 films and 500 nominations for Best Show.

The talent and creativity is overwhelming and we will be showcasing some of the best acts in a Regional Final of our Stage Award this Saturday 17th February and 10 amazing short films in the final of the Comedy Shorts Award on Sunday 4th March at the VAULT Festival.

In a major effort not to be London-centric, we travelled to Exeter, Dublin, Manchester and Perth. There were 25 heats in total for the Stage Award with the inevitable concentration of numbers in London and Brighton, home to our longest running gig at Komedia.

This only happened with the help of some great comedy friends and allies. Let me pay credit to Simon O’Keeffe of Chaplin’s Bar in Dublin, Hazel O’Keefe founder of Laughing Cows and the Women in Comedy Festival Manchester, the Spirit of 2012 WOW Southbank team who hosted heats for us in Exeter and Perth, plus brilliant London venues including Hoxton Hall, Phoenix Artist Club, Bill Murray Pub and the Betsey Trotwood. Not forgetting, of course, the team here at the VAULT Festival in London.

When I first created the Funny Women Awards in 2003, I could never have anticipated the level to which they would grow. We have added new three non-performance awards, Comedy Writing, Comedy Shorts and Best Show to ensure that we honour the women who want to express their funny bones on paper and film as well as on stage.

I have always believed in the power of humour to change the world, and some of us, from producers to performers are proud to make this connection. We give women a real voice and a platform to talk about the awful prejudices and treatment meted out to us even in today’s enlightened #metoo #timesup society.

There is no excuse for comedy promoters not to be booking women for their shows and the success of women like Katherine Ryan, who won our Awards in 2008, that leads the way. It is particularly inspiring to see how many women choose to make our Awards their first ever gig, eschewing the competition environment for the opportunity to be seen on stage alongside other women.

Charity is at the heart of everything we do as well, sometimes providing an extra incentive to overcome the nerves and give comedy a go. This year we are proud to be supporting UN Women and the HeForShe movement and our Charity Final at the Duchess Theatre on Monday 12th March is a signature event during Arts Week London.

A final word. We need audiences!!! You are as important to us as performers! Throughout the 2017 Awards it has been your feedback that has helped us to shape the future of female comedy. At this stage of the competition it is down to the professionals who produce, develop, film and stage comedy but nothing speaks as loudly as applause. See you there!

The 2017 Funny Women Awards have been made possible with the support of the following: Comedy Central, Why Did the Chicken, Soho Theatre, Women’s Radio Station, Oliver Bonas, MOO and Starling Bank.

For more information about the Awards and all our events please visit

#FWAwards2017 #RegionalFinals #ComedyShorts #100FunnyWomen #HeForShe #ArtsWeekLDN #ChangingtheNarrative

A Writer’s Guide to Making the Most Out of VAULT Festival

by Naomi Westerman Playwright

This post was first published by the London Playwrights’ Blog on January 18, 2018.

A Writer’s Guide to Making the Most Out of VAULT Festival

Last year was my VAULT Festival debut, with two shows (the one-woman kidnap drama CLAUSTROPHILIA, and the feminist queer sex comedy PUPPY). This year I’m returning to VAULT with, for some reason, another two shows (the one-woman crime noir pastiche DOUBLE INFEMNITY, and ZINA, a verbatim play about female sexuality and feminism within Islam).

Coming into my second VAULT Festival feels a lot less daunting, having a learnt a few tips and tricks from last year. So I’ve compiled a small guide to help any writers (newbies or VAULT veterans) make the most out of a brilliant festival!

1. Don’t plan to do too much*
Doing VAULT Festival is like nothing else I’ve experienced. With Edinburgh an increasingly commercial and expensive leviathan, VAULT continues to provide a fantastic platform for new and established talent, while still retaining a proper underground fringe vibe.

It is also one of the only festivals of its size that offer a box office split with no hire or registration fees, which is frankly astounding.

Though VAULT Festival is fantastic, it’s also huge, overwhelming and, at times, scary. Last year I went into it as a newbie playwright, knowing nothing and no one. It was a sharp learning curve. And having two shows meant the workload I had to deal with became excessive.

As the old saying goes, quality is better than quantity (and it’s also better for your sanity). Though I have two shows again this year, I bought in co-writers to help me with one to avoid the madness of last year!

*That’s unless you’re a masochist who enjoys having no life of course.

2. Don’t have preconceptions, especially about your own shows.
I ended up with two shows at VAULT 2017 by accident. A producer/director (the wonderful Rebecca Gwyther) who had previously directed CLAUSTROPHILIA asked if she could take it to VAULT.

I was also in the middle of extending a sketch I’d written about middle class dogging into a sprawling epic about porn, facesitting, protest, periods, women’s magazines and Nick Clegg (seriously) and thought VAULT sounded like a good place to try this new thing out as a work-in-progress.

I went in with such low expectations for PUPPY, and instead found it comforting that proper professional theatre makers were doing a proper professional production of CLAUSTROPHILIA, which I regarded as my serious play

But then the festival started, and PUPPY started to get buzz, and started to sell out, and started being namedropped in intimidating publications like the Guardian, and CLAUSTROPHILIA… didn’t. It didn’t do terribly, it just didn’t do much of anything. Unfortunately you can never know how people are going to react to a show, which leads us onto…

3. Nobody knows anything, so do the projects you want to do
I’ve never been able to predict what will work and what won’t. I don’t think anyone can. So don’t make decisions based on what you think other people will like (for theatre and in life).

I suggested bringing ZINA (a verbatim play I was commissioned to collate and edit) to VAULT for a trial run, and I was certain it would do well there. An extraordinary true story of a Muslim woman who went from devout Hijabi to dominatrix, it felt so vital and urgent.

As I write, we are six weeks away from opening and haven’t sold a single ticket. And incidentally I’m telling you this because everyone RTs their praise and airbrushes their achievements, but it’s important to share the downs as well as the ups.

If you’re a writer going into VAULT for the first time and you’re show isn’t selling well, don’t panic. VAULT is a learning curve, whether in relation to the script, staging or marketing.

And don’t worry that everyone else is selling amazingly well and it’s just you. It’s really not. Best thing to do? Reach out to us other writers on Twitter – we’d love to come and see (and promote!) your show.

4. Work with good people
I couldn’t have done Puppy last year without Rafaella Marcus, a fine director and dramaturg who I met via a bizarre theatre speed-dating event and have stuck with, leech-like, ever since.

I ended up co-writing DOUBLE INFEMNITY with two other generous and talented writers Catherine O’Shea and Jennifer Cerys (you may be familiar with her work, as she’s the LPB Editor!), and new all-female theatre company Paperclip offered to co-produce it.

There are so many good, talented people in theatre. You don’t need to work with those who are neither. Don’t say yes to anyone or anything if it doesn’t feel right, for fear of losing an “opportunity.”

5. Stick together
Despite so many companies performing, VAULT feels surprisingly uncompetitive. People tend to come to VAULT for the experience, to spend the entire evening hanging out seeing loads of stuff, rather than visiting for one particular show.

So lean into it and support each other. See each other’s shows. Tweet up. Talk. I set up the Facebook group Women of VAULT for this very purpose – VAULT shows just how brilliant being the theatre community can be.

6. Start early
Start thinking about marketing as early as possible. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but draw up marketing lists and start sending out press releases at least a month ahead of time.

Theatre bloggers, online magazines, and podcasts all offer opportunities to market your show. And don’t forget the power of social media.

Ditto technical requirements. You don’t want to be hunched over a laptop wrestling with sound effect mp3s at 1am the night before you open (which I swear I’ve never done…)

7. Want to get involved next year?
Have a realistic idea about what you want to get out of VAULT, and what you can practically achieve. It’s a good idea to attend some shows this year (there’s hundreds to pick from!) to give you idea of what they programme and the venue itself.

A full six-week run of a 10-cast play at VAULT is probably unrealistic. On the other hand, know your own worth. If your show needs a certain size venue or a certain number of performances to make it viable, that’s okay too. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

Some parting advice…
Being part of VAULT Festival is an amazing opportunity, both to get your own work out there, but also to see the amazing other things that are happening quite literally underground. Good luck to everyone involved!

I thought I’d leave you with some parting practical advice about VAULT:

• Make your shows as low-tech as possible.
• With so many shows on in a relatively small number of spaces, space and time is at a premium.
• Shit happens: PUPPY had to open without a tech due to venue keys being lost. Getting upset doesn’t help.
• The get-ins and get-outs are tight.
• Try not to use props or sets you can’t carry.
• It’s underground. Wear long socks.
• Try to get enough sleep. Drink plenty of water.
• Being part of VAULT means you get to see any VAULT show that is not sold-out for free. Go to as much stuff as possible.
• VAULT parties are the best parties.

Naomi Westerman’s show DOUBLE INFEMNITY is running at VAULT Festival from January 31st to February 4th. This show has been co-written by Catherine O’Shea and LPB Editor Jennifer Cerys. Naomi’s show ZINA is also running from February 21st – 25th.

The Life of a Festival Assistant

by Alex Franks Festival Assistant 2017

Like the sound of working at VAULT Festival? Click here to apply to be a Festival Assistant at VAULT 2018!

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.