In less than a month I’ll be opening my solo show, Amy Conway’s Super Awesome World at the 2018 Vault festival. This will be my first time at the festival and in fact my first time taking my own work to the Big Smoke. I’m based in Glasgow you see and in all honestly, London scares me. It’s vast, it’s crowded, it’s over-run by a surplus of incredibly talented artists all vying to have their voice heard in a city that is saturated with world-class art. The idea of bringing a show into an arena like that is, frankly, intimidating. Expectations are high, the competition for attention is fierce and in my head I’m imagining the theatre equivalent of Dragon’s Den, with London leaning back in an expensive leather chair saying ‘I’m out’.
But from what I’ve heard so far I’m getting the impression that the Vault festival is different. Whilst much of London theatre is commercial, elitist and very cis straight white male, Vault festival seems to have a more egalitarian approach. The upfront venue costs for starters are considerably less than elsewhere in the capital (the rising costs of hiring London art spaces are a huge disincentive for emerging artists, particular those not based within central London). But more importantly, the Vaults isn’t just a venue, but a hub.
Super Awesome World is an interactive show that explores depression through 90s video games, and so mental health is something I’ve been thinking and talking about a lot, particularly with other artists, for the past few years. And I believe part of the reason why mental illness is so endemic among self-employed arts professionals is that it is very hard to foster a sense of community in our everyday lives. Especially since a lot of us are making work with less and less collaborators due to lack of funds, a lot of the time, being an artist can be a lonely pursuit. Festivals like the Edinburgh Fringe and, indeed, the Vault festival, allow artists to come together. Of course we all want to sell tickets, we all want to gain recognition and be programmed or commissioned or simply noticed, but we also want to feel solidarity with our peers, to be inspired by their work and to be elevated by an atmosphere of creativity and hope.
Back in 2012 in Glasgow, myself and a couple of friends got together to make a show about internet dating. Update was pretty much our first excursion into the professional world of theatre making, but as inexperienced as we were, we were given a slot at Arches Live, an innovative, experimental theatre festival in Glasgow run by the Arches. Like the Vaults, the Arches also made it’s home underneath railway arches in the heart of the city and set out to make bold work with bold artists. The Arches was my first artistic home and not only did I feel welcome there, I felt like I was part of something; it took a chance on me and gave me the space and encouragement to develop my own voice. This amazing Glasgow venue is now closed but it’s spirit lives on with the artists it nurtured.
As Matt Trueman observes, “Vault festival’s brilliance is to afford emerging artists an audience”. Like Arches Live, Vault festival is one of few live art festival’s in the UK of low financial risk that is inclusive of artists from a vast array of artistic disciplines, from diverse backgrounds and from different stages in their career (or different stages of “emergence”, since, in a funding environment where only those at the very top are regular funded, this process sometimes seems infinity drawn out!). The Vault festival have an ethos that I very much recognise and applaud: it wants everyone to feel like their artistic voice is worth listening to; that they are not alone, but part of a community.
Looking at the 2018 Vault festival programme, I can see that I will be performing alongside incredible talent and boundary-pushing new work. But these are my allies. These are my fellow artists. And I hope to meet as many of them as possible and experience their work. I feel proud and excited to be part of this diverse arts festival, and, actually, I don’t think I’m intimidated after all (well maybe just a little).
Amy is a theatre maker and performer based in Scotland. Amy Conway’s Super Awesome World, which uses computer games to talk about depression, is showing at the Vault Festival, Waterloo, Feb 21-25, 18:00(1hr).