Planning VAULT is a bit of a year-round thing. We generally start having conversations about “next year” halfway through a current Festival, as that’s the most pertinent time: we have all the best resources at our disposal (a live site, audience members, visiting companies and knowledgeable staff being chief amongst them). We can only get so far with those chats because we’ve got the more immediate pressures of running the Festival, but it’s a good time to ask the big questions: what’s working well? What isn’t? What can we make better next year? We assemble one big document as we go, called Big Learns. Subtle.
Once the Festival is all wrapped up (usually between end of April and end of May), we sit down and go through our long, long debrief list and try to work out how to solve each problem or cement each success.
Some things are relatively simple: we had trouble in 2017, for example, with the volume of people looking for customer service during our ‘off hours’ (most staff tend to work from early afternoon until the early hours of the morning). So we know that this year, we’re going to have to stagger box office/customer service hours more so we can have someone on the phone more frequently. More positively, we found that the new TV screens around the venue with “What’s On” slideshows were popular and helpful for our audiences, so we’ll be increasing the number of those and making sure they’re easy to spot.
Other things are a bit trickier. We want every show at the Festival to be able to display posters and flyers, and we don’t want to place too many restrictions on them – but though the number of shows has increased lots over the last few years, the wallspace we have to play with hasn’t. So now we’re in the process of figuring out how to give companies the maximum amount of exposure to our walk-up audiences without it becoming a kind of bun-fight, or letting more confident companies take up more wallspace than some of their peers.
The biggest questions are always about the structure. How many shows can we comfortably run in the venue in a given night? How do we balance short runs with longer runs? How can we maximise the seating capacity of each space through design? How many people do we need through the doors each day to make the festival financially sustainable? Is bringing in more external venues to increase capacity a good idea? How can we accommodate shows which we like but don’t quite fit the ‘schedule mold’ VAULT is built on?
These are the kind of things we wrestle with and try to nail down well in advance each year because we need to have a pretty good idea of the big picture before we open up the application process. Our answers can (and do) change as we get closer to the festival, but generally the big structural stuff is in place pretty early.
I’m sure that all sounds pretty boring – but for us it’s always a good & productive exercise. If we don’t know every aspect of the festival inside and out, we can’t make improvements. We need to listen to the staff, the companies and the audiences equally to make it a good environment for all of them to get what they want out of it, which sometimes requires delicate balances.
Hopefully, we get more right than we get wrong – but our attitude is that there’s always room for improvement.
I’ll go into a bit more detail on a specific topic – the LATES – in the next blog post so you can see what I mean.
Thanks for reading!