From one fringe to another, Theatre editor Daniel Perks speaks to some of the shows at VAULT Festival 2018 that cut their teeth during Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017:

It’s a 300-mile trip and takes almost five months to get from the biggest arts festival in the world to the biggest (and boldest) in London. They both now incorporate work from comedians, as well as from theatre companies, solo performers, cabaret acts and circus troupes. So, it seems only logical to see Edinburgh Festival Fringe and VAULT Festival through the same lens and approach them with an interchangeable mindset, instead of perceiving one as some kind of build-up to the other. Doesn’t it? I ask theatre companies who are experiencing both for their thoughts:

Vault Festival 2018 Trashed

David William Bryan in Trashed (image courtesy of Holly Wren)

Trashed is tried and tested – we’ve had the scary thing of getting the critics in. For us, this [VAULT Festival 2018] is more like a homecoming thing, to allow all the people that couldn’t make it to Edinburgh to come and see it.

David William Bryan and Sascha Moore are bringing Trashed to VAULT Festival 2018 (running from 24 – 28 January 2018), after a successful Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017. And they aren’t the only company to approach the festival season this way round. In the first two weeks alone, there are at least five shows that I have either already seen or remember noticing posters for when wandering up and down The Royal Mile last summer:

Vault Festival 2018 Edinburgh Festival 2017

Amy Conway’s Super Awesome World

Taking a solo show to the biggest arts festival in the world is pretty intimidating. You’re suddenly a very small fish in an enormous pond of other artists who are all desperate to get noticed; your voice can get lost so easily in the crowd.

For Amy Conway, VAULT Festival is less of a homecoming and more the start of a tour. The Glaswegian theatre maker’s first solo show, Super Awesome World (playing from 21 – 25 February 2018), was a successful examination of mental health and depression through the eyes of a gamer. It drew parallels between the fictional world that we longed to escape into and the all too real world waiting to swallow us whole when we finally venture out:

Doing a three-week run is a marathon, not a sprint

I learnt to put my head down, have faith in the work I had spent over a year creating, and concentrate on actually appreciating being able to share that work with a diverse audience of people, the majority of whom have come to the festival with an open mind and heart.

I learnt that every audience is different – you can’t always control how they will respond to each part of the show.We were expecting that this sort of content would resonate and so thought carefully about how we could offer comfort and support for those that needed it after the show. But I don’t think we were quite prepared for how much audiences wanted to engage with the show in ways we just hadn’t anticipated.

Vault Festival 2018 Edinburgh Festival 2017

Amy Conway’s Super Awesome World

Amy and David are in agreement when it comes to the audience – you can’t predict how they will react, regardless of where you put on the show. But while Super Awesome World is a more comforting piece, Trashed revels in catching the crowd off-guard:

I’m a huge advocate of blurring what’s real and what isn’t. I like to challenge the audience and am more than happy to make them feel uncomfortable. But I never want them to feel threatened, or in danger; the audience know that I’m in total control but are almost in disbelief at how real it is.

But despite not being able to predict an audience’s reaction, you can normally predict your general demographic and anticipate the type of people that are going to be intrigued enough to come and see your show in the first place. In that sense, will Edinburgh and VAULT be all that different, as two festivals that supposedly champion fringe work and support shows that aren’t your typical Shakespeares or Sondheims?

Vault Festival 2018 Edinburgh Festival 2017

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

People who are in Edinburgh, those whose opinions you need in terms of transfer and career progression, have usually made the pilgrimage up [from London]. However, the people that go to Edinburgh do change drastically from venue to venue.

Comedian Georgie Morrell took two shows to Edinburgh 2017 (A Poke In The Eye and The Morrell High Ground). She’s performing a Work In Progress version of her next production, Eyecon, at the VAULT Festival 2018 on 27 January. Georgie throws up an interesting point – unlike VAULT festival, you can’t consolidate the Edinburgh audience under a general umbrella. The biggest arts festival in the world has too much variety for that:

I saw a big difference between the Free Fringe and the Underbelly. I definitely got more enjoyment and learnt more from one than the other – the free fringe audience were far more interesting, more reactionary and gave me more back. It’s a better test of character and ability as a performer because you don’t know what you’re going to get.

The other venue was more repetitive – we sit, we watch, you entertain, we leave. You rarely get something back.

Vault Festival 2018 Glitter Punch

Emily Stott in Glitter Punch

My guess is that the VAULT audience is going to be similar in demographic to the Underbelly crowd, since the price of a ticket to a VAULT show is closer to Underbelly than it is to the Free Fringe. but I’m not so sure that they will remain as sedate as Georgie makes out the Underbelly lot to be…

Another big difference is highlighted by writer Lucy Burke, who brought Glitter Punch to the Assembly venues for Edinburgh 2017 and will now play it in the subterranean caverns from 28 February – 4 March:

I initially thought the target audience for the show would be 16-30. But the more we’ve done it, we’ve had people from all walks of life who have liked it for different reasons. I think we’ll get another diverse group of people – with us being on home turf, it’s easier for us to reach out to friends, hopefully there’ll be a few friendly faces in the audience.

It’s the home turf advantage that the majority of the VAULT theatre companies will benefit from. Both David and Lucy recognise it – you can call upon ever-faithful friends and family to celebrate the work with you when you’re back on your old stomping ground. Edinburgh may be the bigger of the two, to such an extent that the potential volume of prospective spectators is enough to outweigh the disadvantage of performing away from home. But for the majority of companies, who still live and work in London regardless of whether theatre should so centralised, the VAULT festival will be rammed full of personal connections, willing watchers and more easily placated punters.

 

To read more about the above shows, playing at the VAULT Festival between 24 January and 18 March 2018, follow the festival on Twitter (@VAULTFestival) or visit their website – vaultfestival.com