Vault Festival 2022 cancelled, Vault Festival 2023 in the balance?

With 2021 written off as “2020, the sequel” in theatre, hope were pinned on a better 2022. The last thing anyone wanted was “2020 part 3: the nightmare continues”. Now, we’re barely into the new year, and we’ve got a dose of the latter. With only three weeks before its launch, Vault 2022 has been cancelled in its entirety. Worse, this was supposed to be the big relaunch. Whilst Brighton Fringe 2020 and Edinburgh Fringe 2021 were happy to downplay expectations and carry on with the few acts who still wanted to take part, Vault chose to cancel its 2021 festival back in July 2020 with the intention of a full-scale relaunch for its 10th anniversary year.

The worst news of all, however, is the timing of this. It’s one thing to cancel a big annual event before you’ve even started, but quite another to pull the plug at the last moment. For one thing, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of acts seeing the Vault Festival as the big break only to have it taken away from them at the last moment. That must be gutting. The bigger issue, however, is what happens to the Vault Festival itself. As Stephen Walker observed with relation to Buxton Fringe, most decisions to go ahead or cancel come when a decision has to be made on the money. It’s hard to imagine the Vault Festival could have got this close to a start date without a significant financial investment. Unless they have some very good insurance, that’s not coming back. And, unfortunately, the precedents we have to go on is not good.

But first of all, a look of how we got here.

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Odds and sods: November 2021

It’s December, and we’ve had a November which almost looks like business as usual. So let’s do a business as usual roundup of things that have been happening other than plays to review and other things that didn’t warrant entire articles. For those of you who need a refresher, November is my last Odds and Sods of the year, because December is basically pantos and not much else. Let’s dive straight in.

Stuff that happened in November

So the big thing that got me talking was the Royal Court’s ill-judged character on Elon Musk named Hershel Fink. Cue outrage from everyone who thought the Jewish-sounding name was an insinuation that Jews secretly control the world. The Royal Court admitted they got it wrong; some people think that’s the end of the matter, others aren’t so forgiving and think there’s a deeper problem with the Royal Court. I’ve gone further: I suspect this is a problem endemic to the whole of the theatre industry, with the Royal Court merely being the most obvious offender. So what was originally meant to b a couple of paragraphs here became a long-read article in its own right. You are probably not going to like what I have to say. But read it anyway.

Apart from that, this all happened:

Vault Festival returns

festivalpasssmallSo we start the round-up with the news that the Vault Festival is returning in 2022. For festival fringe fans who are new to this, the Vault Festival takes a lot of acts of the length and scale you’d expect to the Edinburgh Fringe – indeed many of the acts go to or form there – but unlike the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s curated. I believe one in six of the applicants get programmed, and realistically there’s no way Vault could run as an open festival. However, until Brighton Fringe gets going in May, this is the closest thing you’re going to get to a fringe.

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Odds and sods: October 2021

So, it’s back to business, and for old time’s, sake, I’m going back to my monthly odds and sods updates being late. I would have got it out on time, but a certain shitstorm blew up that I had to write about first. But now that this is out of the way (for a moment), let’s catch up with what else has been happening.

Stuff that happened in October:

So the big thing that happened – not quite theatre news but still very relevant to north-east culture – was SSD Concerts. Previously making a name for themselves back in April by allegedly going round groping everybody, after the MD implicated in this resigned, we thought we’d heard the last of the MD, or SSD Concerts, or groping, or all three. Nope. It now looks like they thought they could lie low a few months and then just carry on like nothing had happened. The good news is they thought wrongly, and didn’t get away with it.

However, the less prominent news stories, involving people who – as far as I’m aware – don’t behave like sex cases, are:

Durham 2025

cropped-d2025-bid-logoThe excitement at the start of this month was the news that Durham has made it through to the longlist of City of Culture 2025. One important point is that it is Durham County that is bidding for this rather than just the city. This makes use of a rule change that this time round, regions can bid for the title – it need not be a specific urban area. This suits the bid, because ever since Durham County Council became a unitary authority, they’ve been promoting the culture of the county as a unit. Events such as Kynren and attractions such as Beamish are routinely alongside events and attractions in Durham city itself.

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The unwelcome return of SSD Concerts

Image of Hit the North line-up with all the withdrawn bands removed.

Right then. I spend a couple of days out of the loop getting a play ready, and when I finally start to catch up on things, I drop right into the middle of this shitstorm. I, along with most people, thought we’d heard the last of SSD Concerts and its manager Steve Davis back in April, after all the allegations of sexual harassment appeared on the Glassdoor review site. But unlike the management of Tyneside Cinema, the Vice-principal of Ballet West, Noel Clarke, and pretty much every else who resigned and disappeared for good, it now looks like Steve Davis thought he could step back into his role quietly once all the outrage had died down. And, boy, that’s backfired big-time.

And so, yet again I have to write about the subject that just refuses to die. No matter how many times these scandals erupt and people face consequences, it seems there are still people who will never learn. The only good news is that, this time, some people who I’d previously criticised for not taking action have pleasantly surprised me and earned my respect. Only some, mind.

Most of this has already been covered by people less pressed for time than me. If you’ve caught up elsewhere, you won’t find any new information here. I will, however, add a few thoughts of my own.

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Odds and sods: most of 2020 and 2021

So, who remembers the “before” times? Well, one thing I used to write on most months was “odds and sods”, rounding up the little things that have been happening in theatre that weren’t reviews or recommendations or something that required a full article. Then along came a certain event that put paid to little events happening in theatres, or indeed any kind of event.

Contrary to what it feels like for a lot of people, things haven’t ground to a complete halt for 18 months. In spite of the high-profile cancellation of Edinburgh Fringe 2020 there’s still been a lot going on with the fringe circuit to keep me busy. However, in the north-east, theatre has only really got going in the last month. But things haven’t been entirely still on regional theatre, and we’ve got some pretty significant events to catch up on. So, let’s do a catch-up.

What’s been happening between March 2020 and September 2021. Apart from Coronavirus.

There’s a been a lot to talk about relating to Coronavirus, both directly and indirectly. Most of this I’ve talked about indirectly in my live fringe coverage. I might round this up later, but here I am concentrating on what else happened. Here are some events that could just have easily taken place another time.

New artistic directors

When we left off, Lorne Campbell had just departed Northern Stage for a new challenge at the National Theatre of Wales, and the search for his successor was underway. But part-way through 2020 came the shock news that his Live Theatre counterpart Joe Douglas was also leaving. The reason I say shock is because he was doing so well. Sometimes, when an artistic director leaves unexpectedly, I later find out that some of the trustees weren’t happy with the way he or she was taking the theatre, but that looks far form the case here. His first Live Theatre play sold out and came back for another run, and the second also sold out and looked set to come back too. I will say that I did hear a few grumbles over Lorne Campbell (not that I have any reason to believe that was why he moved), but Joe Douglas was getting universal praise. Ah well. Looks like sometimes life’s demands outside of the theatre are more important.

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On Tyneside Cinema (part 1)

This article is one I hoped I would never have to write. It was almost three years ago that the scandals surrounding Harvey Weinstein broke, but that event – and even subsequent news in closer places such as the Old Vic – felt like something happening far away. Now we face the real possibility of an abuse scandal on our doorstep. The north-east arts community is up in arms about this, and things could get uglier still. As a result, it was very tempting for me to steer clear of this subject. But I have often enough criticised arts media doing too much cheerleading for major cultural venues and not enough asking on questions, so I cannot in all conscience stay silent now. The reason this has taken so long to write is because I have had to keep fact-checking a constantly-updating story and run this past people whose advice I trust – not to mention the knowledge of how sensitive this subject is – but I am now ready to speak.

If you are based in the north-east and involved in the arts, you should know what’s happened by now. For everyone else: this all began in late June when an allegation was posted on Twitter from a woman who said she’d been raped by a member of staff at the venue – and this has escalated swiftly. Now large numbers of Tyneside Cinema staff and staff have come forward with other complaints, and it is this, combined with an arguably poor response from the management, that has prompted the BFI to take action. I am reserving final judgement on the Tyneside Cinema until I see what comes out of the various investigations, but as it stands, it doesn’t look good.

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Roundup: The Warren Outdoors

The top of The Warren against a sunset

Reviews: Skip to: Unmythable, Privates, Shit-Faced Shakespeare

It now looks like we’re in for a slow return for conventional indoor theatre. It’s not clear what’s pushing this more: a government dragging its feet over matters as trivial as actors projecting their voices, or theatres themselves deciding it’s not worthwhile for the foreseeable future. But bucking the trend are the outdoor theatres. Even though their go-ahead wasn’t that much ahead of their indoor counterparts, there are some venues determined to go ahead with whatever they can. And the one of greatest interest ot the fringe circuit is The Warren. Normally a pop-up venue that forms the centrepiece of Brighton Fringe, this has hastily reinvented itself as an outdoor venue on the beach. I was invited to the media launch day, as as a weekend visit to Brighton is probably the closest I’m going to get to a summer holiday this year, I decided to take it up.

I’ve already written the basics in my preview for both this festival and a similar outdoor festival in London, but to reiterate the main point, there are two approaches that outdoor events are using. Some are sticking to the traditional method of one ticket per person and making sure the audience are spread out. The Warren, however, has gone down the route of group ticketing. Their auditorium consists of fifty picnic tables, and one ticket equals one table seating up to six people. If you can manage six people from no more than two households, it works out considerably cheaper than six tickets at a normal fringe performance. The obvious drawback? It works out rather expensive if you’re not in a large group. To mitigate this, The Warren have now introduced “standby” tickets for up to two people that can be bought up to one hour before a performance if available (and it’s a safe bet they will be) – this keeps the price sane if there’s two of you, but I wish they’d do something similar for solo punters.

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Introducing the outdoor festivals

You may have noticed I’ve not been giving you a blow-by-blow account of how Coronavirus is affecting theatre. I made the decision some time ago to catch up on things when they were getting back to normal – there’s only so many stories of closures and redundancies you can carry before it gets depressing.

But … things are starting to move again. Outdoor theatre got the go-ahead on the 11th July, and all being well, indoor theatre gets the go-ahead on the 1st August. In practice, most indoor theatre is likely to resume much later, with ongoing social distancing remaining a barrier to viability. However, it looks like outdoor theatre is pushing ahead. Some of the permanent outdoor venues were very fast of the mark, with the Minack Theatre famously restarting its live storytelling on day one. However, the more interesting development is a speedy reinvention of indoor events as outdoor events.

Not everything has worked out – an intended tour of Six as an outdoor drive-in show was abandoned over uncertainty of possible future local lock-downs. But this hasn’t deterred everyone, and here’s a couple of notable festivals coming up.

The Warren Outdoor Season

It’s not clear exactly what’s going on with Brighton Fringe at the moment. As is stands it’s still postponed to autumn; I’m getting contradictory signals as to what this actually entails. However, one venue has chosen not to wait and is instead reinventing itself for the current climes. The Warren – in normal years Brighton fringe’s most prominent venue by a long way – has reinvented itself as an outdoor socially distanced venue for two months.

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Will Coronavirus clobber the fringe season?

Update 29/03/20: As you are probably aware, pretty much every prediction I have made so far with a resolution one way or the other turned out to be wrong. I will write an update once we have a better idea what’s happening – in the meantime, here’s the original for you to laugh and point at.

It’s not often I do stand-alone news articles. Normally I wait until the end of the month and put it in odds and sods. However, this is a fast-moving situation and what was idle speculation a few days ago is already a serious possibility. So, it turns out that, unlike Sars, Swine Flue, Bird Flu and pretty much every other lurgi where the panic was way out of proportion, with Coronavirus there actually is something to worry about. There’s been lockdowns of various degrees going on all over Europe, and this morning the Scottish Government has announced what appears to be a ban on events with more than 500 people. It’s not clear exactly how that’s going to work, and one important detail is that the reason for the ban is to free up emergency services to deal with Coronavirus cases, rather than preventing the spread. Even as I write this, the English football leagues have announced a one-month delay of their matches. Continue reading

Odds and sods: January 2020

Those of you with good memories will recall that my monthly odds and sods articles are supposed to come shortly after month has ended, not when we’re nearly at the end of the next one. My excuse is that there’s no let-up in my day job and 50-hor weeks are still the norm. As such, I was tempted to gave January a miss and catch up with everything in a February edition. However, there have been a couple of pretty major things that have happened over the winter that need attention, but I’ve decided it’s better late than nuver.

Stuff that happened in December and January

So what’s been happening in December and January to grab my attention. Let’s start with two pretty major news stories that could have a lot of repercussions, and then follow it up with two more things of interest.

Goodbye Great Yorkshire Fringe

https://www.exploreyork.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/GreatYorkshireFringeLogo.jpgSo there was one big bit of news that almost passed me by, but after five years of the Great Yorkshire, founder Fringe Martin Witt has pulled the plug on this festival – and is blaming York City Council for this. As my regular readers will know, I’ve been quite critical of this fringe in recent years for its practice of curating who can take part, in contrast to all the major fringe that are open to all. However, in the end, the mood is it’s a dispute over city centre management that has brought about the end. There does seem to be a consensus that it came down lack of space to set up its pop-up venues, meaning it would have spread over more of the city instead of the cluster of venues in one place. That, I appreciate, must have been demoralising for the fringe organisers. Continue reading