VAULT Festival 2020
Laura Drake Chambers: "So, I feel a duty to look for work that elevates queer or female-led companies and introduces their work to broader audiences in a safe environment."
(Photo credit Tom Shannon)
VAULT Festival is London’s biggest and boldest annual arts and entertainment festival, hosting hundreds of events each year; reaching across theatre, comedy, cabaret, immersive experiences, late night parties, and more. Now in its eighth year, VAULT Festival returns in 2020 from 28th January until 22nd March 2020 with a broad and diverse programme in venues throughout Waterloo and South Bank.
Hi Laura thanks for talking to TNC, how does it feel to have booking is open for VAULT 2020?
It feels so great! 2019 was a huge success for us, and 2020 is turning out to be an even more exciting year for the festival. It’s the biggest programme we’ve ever launched, with 603 shows so far across our three programmes, and we’re working with more creative collaborations and partnerships than ever. The programme is bigger, the VAULT team is bigger, it’s a very exciting time for us and I think that will reflect in this year’s programme.
As a programmer do you ever get nervous about how the shows you've selected will be received by audiences?
It can definitely be a little nerve-racking the night before we launch but mostly it’s nervous excitement. It’s a big moment for us as a team to see the hype for the festival suddenly spike as the news of each programme go live. The atmosphere in the office can be pretty feverish!
Specifically with my Lates Programme though, I don’t actually feel nervous about how the programme will be received. A lot of groundwork goes into selecting each company we work with. Each have been specifically approached because of my confidence in their work, their core values, the way they integrate with artists and the community, and, particularly, how they handle their audiences in large spaces.
Every company’s values invariably align with the festival’s and my own. They all work with a strong emphasis on active community connection and most already have an established audience base so there are rarely any surprises. Well, not the bad kind anyway!
Whether they’re bringing small-scale work or have ambitions to grow and reach an even larger audience through the festival, I’m always confident that the artists I choose to work with will be well received.
VAULT Festival has gained an amazing reputation for the wide ranging and unique shows that are part of the festival, did you have any apprehension about programming a festival like this?
For the Lates programme, no. I try to see what is lacking in late night culture across the city, and which communities need to be given a safe platform to grow. I also need to choose which companies to raise up and encourage to grow and which should be given the chance to maintain the scale of their events so that their ethos and safe space policies aren’t jeopardised.
"It is such a rich opportunity to discover new artists that it feels impossible to only come to the festival once (but I’m very biased)!"
Late night work in London is being choked by the declining number of safe venues; it puts every member of the late-night community at risk especially artists who use after-dark spaces as forums to express themselves. Both VAULT Festival and our venue The Vaults are run by teams of brilliantly kind and supportive humans all of whom are extremely proactive when it comes to safety policies and maintaining positive and secure working environments for both staff and audiences. So, apart the usual apprehension that comes from hoping that tickets will sell for all our events, I don’t really feel concern when I’m programming for VAULT Festival.
You are part of an all-female programming team, what has this experience been like for you?
It’s wonderful of course! That said, I’m sure the camaraderie between us as a team, would be the same regardless of our gender identities. VAULT Festival has an exceptional way of finding like-minded people and bringing them together. Its community spirit is one of the most overwhelmingly positive things about working for the festival. We communicate with each other very well and I think that the cohesiveness of our programmes is dependent on that. Without the level of teamwork and friendship that’s cultivated earlier on in the year I think that our artistic unity would suffer.
Well over 50% of the shows at VAULT 2020 are by female-led, how important was it for you and the programming team to ensure that women in theatre gain this level of representation at the festival?
Hugely important! VAULT prides itself on being a platform for developing and nurturing the next generation of artists. We define ourselves by this approach. So, if we aren’t ensuring that platform is inclusive of under-represented art-makers then who is?
It’s not just a representation of female artists that we’re working hard to secure though, we’re constantly striving to make space for artists from all backgrounds and communities. This year I set out to create even more opportunities in my programme for LGBTQ+ work to thrive. As VAULT Festival is inherently a queer-friendly space, it is a space where everyone should feel safe. In general terms though, our city is not and is dominated by male-led productions and shows. So, I feel a duty to look for work that elevates queer or female-led companies and introduces their work to broader audiences in a safe environment.
How do you go about selecting a show you want to see at VAULT?
Finding the right companies is one of the most enjoyable parts of creating my festival programme. London is full of creativity and saturated with artists and communities expressing themselves through late night work – it’s definitely not a chore going out and finding great work to programme. The key is finding the balance between those companies that are hungry to expand into larger venue spaces and those that would benefit from the support that VAULT can offer at the same time as finding companies that align with the ethos of VAULT Festival to bring in new and exciting audiences to our festival.
One of the first places I begin looking are other late night fringe venues, and which events and collectives are making an impact, raising awareness or approaching event-making in unique ways. For example, our Valentine’s special in Week 4, ‘Self-Love Sanctuary’ (Saturday 15th Feb 22:30) from grrl-power fuelled collective Pussy Liquor, champions the right to reclaim our bodies through immersive interactions, patriarchy smashing cabaret performances, sex positive workshops, and an all night disco!
Now this is a tough one but could you recommend your top 5 shows from VAULT 2020?
This question is so tough, but if I have to answer it –
From my Saturday Lates programme in The Underbar I am particularly excited to see what Extinction Rebellion will be bringing us during Eco-Week (Saturday 22nd Feb 22:30)! Also Sodom & Begorrah’s St. Patrick’s Day X-Travaganza (Saturday 14th Mar 22:30) who will be redefining Paddy’s Day celebrations with a queer-led, Irish infused, international loving hooley.
For Fridays in The Forge, I’d certainly recommend Week 8’s The Cocoa Butter Club (Friday 20th March 22:30) and their incredible showcase of cabaret talent celebrating performers of colour, Beautiful Cosmos (Friday Feb 21st 22:30) in week 4, a brass-fuelled partner event of Perhaps Contraption’s Nearly Human, which is also in The Forge at the earlier time of 7:30pm that week. Finally, I’m thrilled to be bringing graduates from Soho Theatre’s Cabaret & Drag Lab (Friday 6th March 22:30) together for a showcase event celebrating some of the weirdest and most wonderful creations that have passed through the course.
That’s 6 shows. Forgive me.
Finally, what do you hope people will take away from VAULT 2020?
I was asked this same question in an interview last year and the answer is still the same, I hope people want to return again and again to see more of the work we have on offer! I hope they arrive to see one show but end up unexpectedly seeing 2 more that night purely because of the variety of shows on offer. It is such a rich opportunity to discover new artists that it feels impossible to only come to the festival once (but I’m very biased)!
I also hope that our audiences feel empowered and nourished by the work that they have seen and that they find something at our festival that speaks directly to them. Something that leaves them feeling seen and heard by the work that we’ve chosen to programme and support.