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Vault Festival’s Mat Burt & Andy George: “We’ve got our fingers crossed that the wonderful shows continue to bring audiences in despite current uncertainties”

In the pretty graffitied tunnels below Waterloo station, Vault Festival hosts London’s strongest annual gathering of creatives each January to March. This year’s festival, running until March 22nd, has been the most successful yet.
This year, the festival’s record growth - “which is exciting” - has included more “general” audiences trickling in alongside the traditional fans of fringe theatre, comedy and cabaret. And, says festival co-founder Mat Burt, “there’s an interesting trend for older audiences, which is really nice.”
All the while, audiences have been more hesitant than ever in the wake of Coronavirus. Industry-wide, advance booking is hugely down this year, says co-founder Andy George. “It’s probably due to all the various uncertainties in the world and a culture that now expects entertainment to be a little more on demand and acts accordingly. We never know how many we’re going to see until the day itself.”
In this interview, Mat and Andy tell Run-Riot about the best shows to catch in the final weeks and reflect on the changes and growth patterns from the festival amid the obvious current challenges - and ponder over whether the festival could ever multiply out of London.
Adam Bloodworth: Hey guys. There’s a few weeks left of Vault 2020. What shouldn’t we miss?
Mat Burt & Andy George: Beach Body Ready sticks two fingers up at body shaming and runs 17 - 22 March at 7.45pm; Sodom & Begorrah: St Patrick's Day X-Travaganza is going to be a great Vault Late night party beginning at 10.30pm on March 14th; Nouveau Riche's Brand Nouveau Initiative VAULT Edition, which is two shows - one called Resonate and one called The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English - runs 10-22 March at 6.00pm. The initiative brings together a group of the best black and minority ethnic emerging artists, providing opportunities to expand their networks, receive first class mentoring and benefit from creative space, time and research opportunities; A Lightweight Disposable Product is about one teenager’s coming-of-age being inextricably connected to The Sex Pistols and plays 17-22 March at 7.30pm.

Adam: How has Vault changed, grown or developed this year?

Mat & Andy: The Festival evolves every year. It’s bigger, for one thing - we are flooded with applications, more than we can possibly program, so we try to make more space to give more artists an opportunity. It also gets more expensive each year, which means it’s got to be a little bigger to try and generate the footfall we need to survive.

Spiritually, it very much still embodies the ethos and values we started out with, but operationally it’s a little slicker every year. We learn a lot with every Festival and try and implement as many improvements and tweaks as we can.

Adam: Which remaining shows are you personally going to make sure you see?

Mat: I’m a big fan of Jess Edwards as a director so I’m definitely going to see Passengers. I also love Richard Marsh’s funny, poetic writing so I’ll be seeing Hot. I’ve not managed to catch Moonlight Hustle yet either and I hear it’s brilliant. Definitely trying to make time for Dig by Fever Dream too, as a show which involves an actual skip delivery of soil definitely stands out in terms of high-concept ideas. We’re also both excited about the two Nouveau Riche shows (Resonate and The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English) so we’ll try and catch them - but to be honest we see a maddeningly low number of shows during the festival as there always seems to be something to do!

Andy: Very excited for the incredibly timely (and funny) Beach Body Ready from the fantastic Hull-based The Roaring Girls, and Oliver Wellington’s Lightweight Disposable Product, which looks set to be a brilliant piece of gig-theatre and exactly the kind of thing we love to host.

Adam: Does it become harder to attract audiences and sell tickets later in the festival?

Mat & Andy: To be honest, we don’t really see that. There’s definitely a “peak” somewhere in the middle of the Festival when our early-adopter audiences meet the audiences who’ve heard about it via the press coverage and marketing campaigns. The most difficult thing for us is advance sales.

Industry-wide, advance booking is hugely down this year, probably due to all the various uncertainties in the world and a culture that now expects entertainment to be a little more on demand and acts accordingly. We’re seeing record numbers through the doors, which is exciting, but we never know how many we’re going to see until the day itself. So we’ve got our fingers crossed that some of the wonderful shows coming up in the programme continue to bring audiences in over the next few weeks, as they absolutely deserve to.

Adam: Are you noticing new audiences come through as the festival grows year-on-year?

Mat & Andy: Definitely. Our core audience is always the fringe-fan crowd who love coming to see new writing, new comedy and so on, but every year we attract more “general” audiences, people who are just looking for a good night out and have stumbled across us. Interestingly, opening on Tuesdays this year for the first time in a while has brought the average age of our audiences up a little bit, which is really nice. We’re also seeing a more diverse crowd than we’ve had in the past, which is encouraging - it’s moving in the right direction. We're really committed to keeping shows accessible with low-pricing and lots of "discovery" discounts, which means more people have the chance to come and explore what's going on.

Adam: How might creatives use Vault as a precursor for the Edinburgh Fringe?

Mat & Andy: People use Vault Festival in different ways. Some people use it as a kind of London “victory lap” for a successful Edinburgh run or tour, which is fantastic. And yes, a lot of people make use of it as a lower-risk testing ground for work they are taking elsewhere. The whole point of the festival is to be accessible and remove as many barriers to entry for artists as possible. It gives creative teams a chance to get something on its feet in front of an audience, develop it and grow it before taking it into the wider world. We organise a lot of industry events and tickets to help artists connect with programmers, venue bookers and touring organisations as part of their run. We work really hard to keep the opportunity real, rather than just a word, which gets thrown around a lot in this industry.

Adam: Is two months the 'sweet spot' for running a festival in terms of running time, or would you consider making it run on longer?

Mat & Andy: It doesn’t feel particularly sweet when you’re down here 16 hours a day. But it does seem to work! As we’ve mentioned, it’s all about maximising the opportunity for artists, and trying to get the thing to pay for itself, which as an unfunded organisation is always an uphill battle. At the same time, we have to be mindful of our team - and any potential audience fatigue. There’s no point hosting shows which can’t attract the audiences they deserve, so we keep an eye on trends and patterns in order to ensure we’re not over-stretching ourselves. So far, so good!

Adam: Would there be any possibility of taking the concept out of London and into other cities?

Mat & Andy: This is our home. We’re hugely grateful to the people of London, and Waterloo in particular, for working alongside us to make this extremely silly idea possible. Could it go elsewhere? Yeah, we think so, if we can find another location and environment that ticks just the right boxes... It's a bit like the search for a planet that can support human life. But there’s still a lot we want to improve down here (and a lot of sleep to catch up on) before we consider adventures further afield.

Adam: How can creatives get in touch if they want to be involved next year?

Mat & Andy: We usually open up the application process around June - it’ll appear at vaultfestival.com as soon as we know if it's viable to do another festival! So if anyone’s reading this who wants to be involved next time, they can help make that happen by coming to check out a couple of shows and have a couple of drinks. Every penny counts for us and the support is really appreciated.

Vault Festival 2020
Running until 22 March
Info and tickets at vaultfestival.com

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