Continuing on from the previous fringe to fringe article, theatre editor Daniel Perks looks at the pressure to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 versus VAULT Festival 2018:

We are into week three of VAULT Festival 2018, 11 days and nights of shows that have come and gone on the 11 different stages underneath Waterloo Station (and in two nearby theatres). 11 days into the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and you’re nearly halfway through; here though, another 29 days of performances stretch out in front. There’s no two ways about it – VAULT Festival 2018 is a marathon undertaking. But despite being longer, is it as an intense experience as Edinburgh?

Oversaturated

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Georgie Morrell’s Eyecon (image courtesy of Rosemary Rance)

“It [Edinburgh Festival Fringe] has become oversaturated – it’s not curated in any way and that needs to be addressed. I think it’s going to continue to become a trades fair and lose all sight of being a fringe festival.”

“Another will come up hopefully to rival it – and there are a lot of festivals that are sticking to the ethos, which is really good to see. VAULT is a very young festival still – a two-month festival in London, that’s quite the undertaking.”

Comedian Georgie Morrell took two shows to Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017, A Poke In The Eye and The Morrell High Ground. She came to VAULT Festival 2018 for one performance only, a work in progress of her new comedy show Eyecon. All apart from a couple of headline shows only play one or two weeks, so it doesn’t feel as much strain on the productions themselves. But perhaps it is stressful in a different way – a more difficult opportunity to get press in with such short runs. Surely Edinburgh is easier in that regard, as the place that the theatrical world flocks to during the month of August?

“The press there are extremely tough and that’s not really what a fringe festival is supposed to be about. But, because the competition is so high, you have to get press in to possibly get the good review to then get audiences in.”

Georgie makes a good point – the press in Edinburgh have such volume of choice that they can afford to be picky about what they see. And that isn’t what a fringe festival should be about – it should be about getting constructive feedback on your work in a safe space. Perhaps VAULT Festival embodies the fringe ethos more than its Scottish cousin after all. But, I still maintain that Edinburgh can take a greater toll on the performers, both physically and mentally

Self-care and self-preservation

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Emily Stott in Glitter Punch

“Edinburgh is such a beast – there’s that temptation and want to stay out 24 hours a day; see everything that you can; socialise with everyone you know. Self-care and self-preservation are really important – you’re going there as a professional to represent yourself, so you need to be in your best health mentally and physically.”

Writer Lucy Burke took Glitter Punch to Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 and it’s down at VAULT Festival 2018 from 28 February – 4 March. She rightly points out that Edinburgh is more dangerous that VAULT in that respect – it saps you of more energy, so you do need to look after yourself. The volume of work around mental health at the fringe is testament to the industry recognising how its individuals don’t put their own wellbeing at the forefront. I for one fell fowl of this in Edinburgh last year:

Milly Thomas in Dust (Image courtesy of The Other Richard)

“I’m so appreciative that Milly [Thomas] is speaking out so honestly about mental health. There were a lot of plays in Edinburgh that tackled that – it was only ever going to be a good thing. The honesty from which she came at it… It was refreshing to see her talking about the effect that it can have on other family members as well. I’ve had issues with mental health in the past – you can feel really selfish and that guilt is something that I’ve suffered from. But mental illness isn’t a choice.”

Lucy highlights Milly Thomas and Dust, a work that played to both critical and popular acclaim in Edinburgh. Rightly so, it’s a stunning one-woman show about the after effect of being so low that suicide seems the only option, and is about to play at the Soho Theatre (20 February – 17 March). Dust’s director, Sara Joyce, also has two shows at VAULT Festival this year – Tamar Broadbent and Emma Pritchard’s Split (one of my top picks of the festival) and Isobel RogersElsa, which is a transfer from Edinburgh via the Soho Theatre in November 2017.

You don’t have to do everything

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Isobel Rogers in Elsa

“I feel like I was so determined to take Elsa up that year [2017] that I didn’t have a producer on it – that wasn’t good. What I learned from Edinburgh was to value that being a writer, a performer, an artist, was enough. You don’t have to do everything.”

“I wish I’d respected the show enough to put a team behind it. But as a performer, I felt that it was invaluable doing the show every night. I feel quite fearless now – it’s really helped me in listening to each audience and playing their mood. You have to come on and feel like you love yourself and your work because that’s all you have.”

Isobel’s first comment about feeling like the performer should wear multiple hats is commonly found in Edinburgh. It is so extortionate to take shows up that you often resort to consolidating roles to cut costs. But that ultimately affects the work, as well as piling even more stress onto the performer themselves.

Isobel also highlights the dichotomy of pressure here – you can either rise to the occasion, or crumble under the weight. How it affects you as a person, well that’s up to you and you alone. Her strategy is to write in third person, separate her identity from the work and as such create some much-needed distance, both to let Elsa grow and to segment her writing from her performance:

“In Elsa, there is some verbatim, but usually I log a pattern from lots of different people and use that as universal in a song. That’s what comes from writing in third person.”

A fringe of ego

Vault Festival 2018 Edinburgh Festival 2017

“I find the idea of ego really interesting – even though I’m doing a one-woman show, I don’t think I’m interesting enough on my own. But the characters, themes and archetypes hit a chord.”

Edinburgh is in many ways a fringe of ego. It is practically bursting at the seams with individuals who need reminding that they are not the be all and end all when it comes to the creative industry. That is one key difference about VAULT – there is not ego here. There is simply companies trying out work, in a supportive atmosphere, carefully crafted and maintained by the VAULT organisers who are there for support and not for the glory.

 

The VAULT Festival runs until 18 March 2018. For the full programme of events and tickets, visit the website here.