Mat Burtcher and Andy George: VAULT Festival – what's it all for?

The VAULT Festival producers, directors and founders discuss the importance of the new writing festival

Andy George and Mat Burtcher
Andy George and Mat Burtcher

We are living in a time of crisis. There is great, impossible to ignore change needed everywhere. Huge social upheavals sweep across nation after nation, mocking age-old tribal attitudes whilst forging sinister new ones. We're confronting, at last, the stark fact that humankind is making its home uninhabitable at a rate we hadn't imagined 20 years ago. We are worried about housing, public services, our health and our communities because they seem to be facing new threats every day.

So what is the point of throwing all our energy into VAULT Festival? When things appear so bleak, isn't organising two months of arts and entertainment in the Victorian tunnels under Waterloo station akin to dancing in the ruins while the fire rages?

Not quite. Every year, thousands of artists seek an opportunity to make themselves seen and heard. Many of these artists find a space at VAULT Festival or other festivals, which have the ability to programme with variety, innovation and freshness in mind. Artists want to present their work for an infinite number of reasons – often very personal ones. Festivals help provide that space for the personal to be normal, for the unheard to be heard, and for the unseen to be seen.

Katie Arnstein's Sticky Door
Katie Arnstein's Sticky Door
© Simon Jefferis

Some, like Katie Arnstein's Sticky Door, the third part of her It's a Girl! trilogy (all three of which have all started their lives at VAULT Festival) take their real life experiences to bring you on a journey of storytelling – combining comedy and sincerity with the hope of holding a microscope up to the world and affecting change in our hearts and minds.

Others, like drag sensation Glamrou in From Quran to Queen, put their own dazzling spin on potentially taboo topics – putting themselves in the firing line to strip back and erase stigmas with the hope to create a more welcoming and accepting society.

Perhaps Contraption's Nearly Human takes you on a spiritual journey of virtuosic musicianship, dynamic choreography and mesmerising contact juggling. It's an epic and euphoric celebration of life and the universe and fills the audience with energy and vitality.

Perhaps Contraption's Nearly Human
Perhaps Contraption's Nearly Human
© Rah Petherbridge

Whatever their reason, at VAULT Festival the door is always open, and anyone can come in. Everyone is welcome here.

The breadth of work on show is breathtaking, in form and content. It's overwhelming, even – being an audience member at VAULT Festival immerses you in a world of impossible invitations through which you have to pick and choose. It takes courage, energy and effort to
make the most of everything on offer at places like this. And yet, audiences come. They put in the effort, they take the time and they part with their hard-earned money. The rewards can be sensational.

When we see shows at festivals, often in intimate and raw settings, it touches and affects us in ways that other environments and performance settings can't. The intimacy of the performers, the authenticity of their stories and the diversity of voices being witnessed make us laugh louder, cry harder and cheer until our voices are shrill. Nothing comes close – you too can have an epiphany in the middle of watching a half-naked clown suspended from a hoop above a mesmerised audience.

© VAULT Festival

The theatre, performance and comedy on offer at VAULT Festival allows us to explore our collective nature and individuality, showing us directly the wonderful paradox we all know to be true – we are all different, but we are all also very much the same. There's no better way to realise that than giving over 500 artists and makers the space to expound upon what's worrying them and what should be done about it.

Is it the best way to effect change? It depends on where you're sitting and what tools you have at your disposal. Live performance is only one of many ways to try and paint the world in the colours you want to see it – but as long as there are courageous voices speaking up for those who can't, making fun of things they say we shouldn't, and demanding space and attention for those who deserve it, there will be theatres and festivals to get them in front of an audience.