Meet Andy George, Director of VAULT Festival 2022

vault festival
© VAULT Festival

VAULT Festival is the “best night out in London”, if festival director and co-founder Andy George does say so himself. In 2022, the festival returns from January to March, and it’s celebrating a big birthday.

Back in 2012, VAULT Festival was created by the Heritage Arts Company with the intention of being a one-off programme of fresh, exciting theatre and cinema, platforming marginalised creatives and their work. The festival, holed up in the underground tunnels beneath Waterloo station, was a rip-roaring success. It’s been a staple in the city ever since.

Every year, the festival is a showcase of the creative industry in all its forms. Theatre meets comedy meets drag meets cabaret, and no two shows are the same. “What you get is a chance to escape underground and see a kaleidoscope of shows available,” Andy says. 2022’s festival will see an astonishing 600 shows spread across eight weeks.

The first shows announced include an immersive silent disco with burlesque showgirls, a comedy show conducted entirely in sign language, and a theatre production inspired by the UK’s penchant for stealing historic cultural artefacts from other countries and putting them on display. 

“The first festival kind of bore out of that desire to actually showcase stuff that wasn’t being put on elsewhere,” Andy says. Ensuring the festival is diverse, both in terms of shows and performers, is integral to its success. “We want a programme that is representational of London, but also of the UK. And truly representational, rather than just tokenisticly,” he adds.

The arts industry still has a diversity issue

Certain elements of the mainstream arts industry are fragile when it comes to diversity and representation. Theatre is often seen as too focused on the middle class; music festivals are too male-dominated. Comedy still has an issue with LGBTQ+ inclusion, and the UK cinema industry is yet to effectively address its problem with racism.

Andy believes that the industry is “still very much skewed towards white, middle class people”, and that a core function of VAULT Festival is to “readdress that balance”.

When looking for shows to fill the programme, Andy and the team “deliberately look for shows that are talking about themes and topics in new ways”. Then, as the programme comes together, they host working groups to explore how they could be improving along the way.

“By doing that,” Andy adds, “the audiences get access to those stories that they wouldn’t have otherwise seen or heard”.

The festival aims to keep the arts accessible

Equally important as a broad field of performers is a broad field of audience members. For those on a lower income, the arts can be absurdly inaccessible, with tickets for West End shows or live gigs frequently costing upwards of £50. In response, VAULT Festival aims to be the “most accessible, most affordable” festival of its kind in the UK.

It’s a hefty claim, but the team are striving to put their words into action. Every show costs around £10, with concession tickets available for students, frontline workers and artists. New for 2022 is a ‘pay what you can’ option, whereby those on higher incomes can choose to pay a bit more for their ticket.

“Because if you can afford to,” Andy says, “it means that we can keep it more affordable for everyone else as well. And the artists get a bit more in their pocket.”

Also new for 2022 is VAULT Live On Demand, with select shows streamed online. Again, this is to open up the arts as much as possible, providing an opportunity for those not in London, those with accessibility issues and those with health concerns to still immerse themselves in all the shows have to offer.

“We’ve identified sustainability, accessibility and inclusion as our three cornerstones of our organisation because I think they are the most important things in our society,” Andy says. “If we can create a society that has all those things, we have a much better chance of everyone having a nice time.”

For artists and performers, the Covid recovery is still very much ongoing

It’s been a long and bumpy road to getting the festival back up and in action. 2020’s programme was cut short by a week as the UK fell into lockdown.

“If it had hit a week earlier, I wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Andy says, explaining that the amount of revenue lost from the week wasn’t enough to completely topple the festival. “It was just about the limit of what we could survive and tolerate.”

The team cancelled the 2021 festival, and received funding from the Arts Council to keep them afloat. The pandemic became an opportunity to restructure the festival to ensure its long-term survival. Now, the show will remain not-for-profit, and is on route to becoming a charity. 

Andy stresses that many creatives aren’t out of the woods yet, though. All performers have had a wild ride since early 2020, and now perhaps more than ever it’s time to get out and support them where we can. 

“If we want to sustain a healthy industry, we need to acknowledge that we need support and that comes in the form of money,” Andy says. “I think the more we can support independent artists, the more we can keep people creating work that is going to be the next Squid Game, or the next Netflix special.”

It’s true. Art is around us every day. It’s in our lives every time we press play on a new song, hang a painting on our wall, or pull a book to read off our shelves. What we consume shapes our world view and dictates where we go and what we do next. 

“I’d love for every artist who has been through the festival, and every audience member, to always think fondly of it, and to think of it as a place that was integral to their journey.” Andy says. “And if we can be a small part of everyone’s journey, then we’ll be happy.”

VAULT Festival 2022 takes place from 25 January to 20 March next year, at The Vaults, Leake Street. For further information, visit the VAULT Festival website.

Words by Marcus Wratten

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