Some thoughts and advice on VAULT (and other) applications.
We’ve been producing VAULT Festival for five years now. In that time, it’s grown from a handful of shows in a disused storage tunnel into an annual showcase of hundreds of performances and events. We learn a lot every year, and we’re committed to making the process as rewarding – and pain free – for artists as we possibly can. As one of the Festival Directors, I’ve sat on all the programming panels we’ve had so far, and I thought it might be useful to publish a few notes & tips about making an application that we don’t quite have room to fit into the official Application Guidelines documents.
Bit of a disclaimer: everything below is a suggestion, not a directive. Ultimately the most important thing about writing an application is getting your voice across, & communicating your idea clearly. If I’ve written anything that contradicts what you want to do, follow your gut. Also, though we’ve programmed a few different things over our various roles and I hope the notes below are broadly relevant, I have written them with VAULT in mind specifically.
So, onward: some thoughts!
FAQs (Updated 22/08)
A few of you have gotten back with similar questions, so I thought I’d put down some answers here. Do feel free to ask more and I’ll update this if something comes up frequently!
Multiple Applications: You or your company can field multiple applications at once. Generally this won’t increase or decrease the chances of a given show being selected. That said, we will consider them separately unless you tell us otherwise. If it’s a “we’d like to do both, or neither” or a case that there’s one you prefer, it’s good to let us know in the application, as that means we won’t send you offers that you don’t want.
Film Festival: We will be running another Film Festival this year, but applications aren’t open yet; we’ll make an announcement when they are.
Family Shows: Please fill out the standard “Theatre & Performance” application – there’s a section about family-friendly shows towards the end.
Other Venues: It’s possible we’ll be adding other venues to the ones available on the form. If you think your work would benefit from something specific, do feel free to include a description on your application, but please bear in mind that only the currently listed venues are definitely in use this year.
Read The Information You’ve Got
I know, super boring, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t. The Application Guidelines document can be a bit dry, but we try to put as much info as we can in there so everything’s up front. Your knowledge of how it all works comes through almost by osmosis in your application, so it’s really worth getting to grips with it. Also – if something is confusing or unclear, drop us a line and let us know! We won’t be offended if you ask questions; and if you do, we can update the info so other people can benefit too.
Don’t Hurry… Don’t Dawdle.
The application window is just over two months, so feel free to take your time with your idea. There’s no advantage to getting your application in super-early, other than the well-known fact that the first application we receive is always 100% guaranteed a slot*. That said – if you’re confident and have it all sewn up, no need to wait until the last minute either. We do have to be firm about the deadline (MIDNIGHT AUGUST 31 BTW FYI), so don’t put yourself in a tight spot by leaving it as late as you can. The window’s wide in order to accommodate lots of you.
*This is not true.
Don’t Forget The Basics: What Does The Audience See?
In terms of writing about the idea itself, it’s helpful to us if you’re clear about what the performance actually is. Is it a play? A dance? A one-person show? When we read your description, what we’re trying to do is imagine the audience experience of seeing it, and it’s very easy to forget that we might not be imagining the same basic setup as you are. Naturally we want to hear about your motivations & themes, but don’t forget to let us know what’s actually going to take place. Treat us like idiots: we won’t feel patronised, and it’ll be easier for us to see where you’re going.
Andy, who’s a fellow Festival Director and Head of Production here at VAULT, asked me to mention this one: try to be clear about the physical requirements of the show as much as you can. All our venues are quite different; we can’t always put everyone in the venue they like the most, so the more you let us know about your setup in terms of set, furniture, design, space – even how many of you there are – the better. This means we’re more likely to figure out where we can fit you in.
Big Subjects & ‘Starting Conversations’
We’re proud of the fact that we programme lots of shows which concern themselves with social issues and big thoughts. When you’ve got an idea that revolves around something like that – let’s say mental health, or gender equality – it makes sense that you’d foreground your passion for it in your application. But don’t forget context; there are global, cross-sectional conversations about these things already taking place in the arts and beyond. It’s a lot more interesting to a programmer to hear what you, specifically, want to add to that conversation than to simply know that you have the goal of bringing up a challenging subject. Showing an awareness of the context of your show – relevant pieces that have come before, voices you agree or disagree with, or a specific angle you really want to pursue – helps us understand where you’re coming from, and what makes your show different.
Academics & Theory
As above, if there’s a strong theoretical, conceptual or academic heart to your work, you’ll probably want to focus on that in your application. This is fine, but remember you’ve got a (cruelly limiting) wordcount. A couple of sentences to let us know that you know what you’re talking about is enough: if you spend all your words giving us a finely detailed explanation of the theory behind your idea and the depth of your academic reading, you might not have enough left to let us know what the performance itself is going to be like (see the “Don’t Forget The Basics” bit).
You absolutely, 100% do not need to be in some fancy company or collective to apply to VAULT. We want to hear from anyone who a) has an idea and b) believes they have the tools to make their idea a reality. If you don’t have a shiny portfolio or an eighteen foot list of five star reviews, that’s totally fine with us. Give us as much evidence as you can to show you’ve got what it takes to make it happen, and that’ll be enough. Speaking honestly, of course it’s more difficult for us to fully imagine what a complete newcomer without a track record might bring to us: but that’s why it’s VAULT. That’s what it’s for. We’re looking to house a whole range of shows from people with a whole range of experience. If you’re in a successful company, it’s wonderful to hear from you. If you’re not yet? That’s wonderful too.
Another boring one, but worth saying: a small collection of directly relevant materials is much more helpful to a programmer than a 50gb USB with your whole back catalogue on. I totally get why you’d want to include as much as possible, especially if you have a portfolio you’re really proud of, but keep two purposes in mind when choosing stuff to show: illustrate the idea you’re putting forward, and provide us with something that shows who you or your company are. Those are what we’re looking for.
An additional note, specifically on video & show trailers: we try to watch/read/click everything we can with each application, but of course time is limited. If you like to send programmers video content, that’s super, but make it easy for them to see what you’re getting at. A selected two-minute clip of a show is more useful than an hour-long recording of the whole performance, which we won’t have the time to scrub through. Similarly, a beautifully produced trailer which sets a tone but doesn’t actually show anything of the performance itself doesn’t normally weigh in on our decisions too much.
Telling us what we want to hear
This is probably where I come off as *super arrogant* but I’m going to risk it to go out on a limb and say I reckon, if you’re applying, you already quite like the idea of VAULT. There’s a bit on the application form called “Why VAULT”, and I wanted to make it clear that the question isn’t there for us to fish for compliments; it’s there so you can show us that you understand the unique challenges of joining us down here, and give us an insight into your aims and ideas that’s a little broader than the “About The Show” and the “About The Company” sections.
We’ll Give You The Benefit Of The Doubt
This one’s really important – I want you to know that we’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt, by which I mean we interpret anything ambiguous in the most favourable light. We try really hard to approach each new application as if it’s the first one we’ve read that day, and will interpret what you put in it positively. Hopefully that’s a bit of a de-stresser; you don’t need to tie yourself in knots trying to find the precise combination of words that you think’s going to make you look like a theatre hero. We’ll assume that you are!
I think that’s it for now. Thanks for reading – I hope that’s in some way helpful to you. Is it? Let me know – you can reach me on twitter @batmurt or drop me an email ([email protected]) if you have any feedback, or if there’s something you want to know which I’ve not included here. I’ll do my best to get back to you as quickly as I can, and might even make some updates if there are FAQs coming my way.
In future updates you’ll hear from other members of the team too as we try to give an all-around view of the various things we do to make VAULT fun.
Very best of luck with your application, if you’re making one – and we’ll give a shout on Twitter when the next post goes up.