“Londoners want to be in on the secret before anyone else…” We meet Vault Festival Director Tim Wilson

Vault Festival is back at the end of this month, once again bringing its eclectically curated programme to the tunnels underneath London’s Waterloo Station.

We caught up with festival co-director Tim Wilson (pictured on the left with fellow directors Mat Burt and Andy George) to talk unexpected success, sustainability, and why a network of tunnels under the ground is such a fitting metaphor for an arts festival.

Tell me a bit about launching Vault Festival in 2011 — what was it that made you decide that a new arts festival was needed in London?

In total truth, London’s desire for VAULT took us by surprise! That first year we only had twenty shows or so — and we sold almost all the tickets. It was a patchwork three weeks of suicidal risk and legislation-busting work hours, and we barely survived. But people kept coming — I guess spurred by a combination of adventurism and that world famous Londoners’ desire to be in on the secret before anyone else.

You’re gearing up for the festival’s fourth year — will we see any changes in 2016?

So many changes this year. Destination VAULT, is our mantra this year — you don’t necessarily need a ticket to come and enjoy the bar, or the restaurant or the music — but you’ll miss out on the sold out shows if you don’t book ahead. But really we’re aiming at being the one-stop-shop for your late winter entertainment needs.

Do you receive a lot of requests from performers? How do you choose who gets a spot at Vault?

Yes — about 400 companies apply for VAULT, and this year we have space for 95 of them. We look for such a broad range of work, it would be a disservice to the variety of the programme to say that we had a single artistic policy. VAULT works like a family barbecue — everyone crowds around the heat until we’re all stuffed.

Are there any particular challenges in hosting in the tunnels?

Atmospherically the venue is a charm, with its effortlessly cool brick arches and subterranean magic, but it’s also tricky — nobody can stop the rumble of the trains overhead, for instance!

Do you think the VAULT tunnels work as a metaphor for the interlinking of performances/texts or the theatrical community?

For sure, both practically and abstractly. The maze of tunnels is as wild and spooky as the work they contain — artists butt up next to each other in unexpectedly rich juxtapositions, meeting and influencing each other to go on and work together. But the after-show bar is a place of swirling dreams and perhaps over-indulged creativity!

You’ve also worked with (theatre company) Punchdrunk — can you tell me about what you’ve done with them?

I joined just after Faust, so we did Lord Bullingdon’s Last Cigar and then Masque of the Red Death at the BAC, and then a one-off night at the National Theatre. I’ll never be as cool as I was then.

You say in Vault Festival’s brochure that you want to “reinvent the business model of the non-profit creative sector.” Can you tell me about your aims with VAULT?

It is an unparalleled opportunity for audiences and artists alike, in the amplification of a creative atmosphere, in expanding knowledge and horizons, in encouraging bravery and ambition. We aim to make the heart sing and the soul dance.

How do you go about making the festival sustainable?

Ecologically, we’re making progress. This year, we’ve reduced paper by about 75% and we’re also recycling more than ever. We also recycle all our constructed materials too. We consulted with Julie’s Bicycle, who work specifically with festivals.

But if you’re talking about sustaining the festival rather than the environment, that’s harder. Because every year you’re a little less new, so you get less mileage from favours. So you have to aim higher to stay exciting. That costs more. So the risk increases. Basically, you have to be able to take gigantic risks and be prepared to go bust.

How do you cover your costs?

We use anxiety, fear, inverted sleeping hours, blood and covenants with the devil. It’s going to be a long afterlife. No, in truth, it’s a knife edge. For three years we have covered costs by a whisker. Who knows how this one will turn out!

General question — what advice would you give a young person wanting to get into the theatre and worrying about it being sustainable? What are the biggest challenges you see young people face in this area?

The biggest challenge is orthodoxy. Training is good but experience is better, and no experience matches just bloody doing it. There isn’t a pathway — just start walking. Then realise that walking won’t do, and run. Being an artist is so, so tough. Being an artist who never stops working is enormous fun, but it will need titanic amounts of self-generated energy. Basically, I think orthodox ways into the creative professions don’t teach you that your energy to DO is one of the most important things you can find, or learn.

Any standout moments from your five years of VAULT? Any performers that stand out in your memory?

I’m still entranced by Red Bastard, and also Martin Bonger in Fat Man, but this year I’m particularly excited about Wild Worlds (pictured below), by Artful Badger, which will be, like all their shows, infinitely beautiful, sexy, funny, smart and also contain death-defying acrobatics. Do. Not. Miss.

We promise that we won’t…

Vault Festival runs from 26th January — 6th March at Leake Street , London, SE1 7NN



Originally published at https://www.thenationalstudent.com.