Interview with Tim Wilson @ The Vault Festival

In the midst of the hustle and bustle that was taking residence in The Old Vic Tunnels I took some time last week to talk with Tim Wilson, the Creative Director of Vault Festival. He explains the immense amount of work that has been poured into this underground creative factory and reveals exclusively that The Vault Festival could be returning for a second time this year..

As we pull up two seats there is a hive of activity surrounding us, so much so I wonder for a moment whether I have been strategically placed to fit into one of the performances. That is the immediate sense you get here, that everything you come across is interactive and fluid. I almost feel a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory parallel is present. Is it then that Tim Wilson is playing the role of Charlie or Willy Wonka I ask myself? I think a touch of both may be the answer.

To uncover and understand what is at the core of these performances it is key to look at where the creative process began, its reason for becoming and therefore its momentum to carry on. Although a member of the Courvoisier Future 500, a select group of extremely talented people, Tim retains a sense of modesty in the world he resides, reflecting on his involvement in Ron Arad’s Curtain Call last year at The Roundhouse he recalls on the opening night, I kind of had my heart in my mouth.. I said to Marcus (Davey, Artistic Director & CEO of The Roundhouse) “I was sitting next to Terry Gilliam! I can’t believe I’m here with all these people!” But this experience and that of the past few years have given him a better understanding of the realm of the artistically talented, as he muses on Davey’s words “well the point is they’re just human they’re only people and… well if you know what you’re about or you know what you’re reason for being in any industry or maybe particularly the arts industry if you know why you’re there then it’s okay”.

This discussion of pulling back the veneer of celebrity or status and seeing what is underneath in its simplest form seems to me to be reflective of the fundamentals of Silent Opera, one of the more established shows featured in Vault Festival. As Tim perceives it “I think that’s what Silent Opera is, it’s self knowing, it knows what it is and exploring that boundary between live and media ties, I think it’s a really interesting thing”. It attempts to remove the barrier between the actors and their audience, leaving a performance at its rawest form and allowing the observer to gain a sense of involvement in the unfolding of each event.

Tim is passionate about merging the old and the new, to retain originality yet to innovate “it’s part of a new philosophy of young people and I think especially in the arts suddenly a beginning to re-invent and excepting that something new has to involve something old”. It occurs to me that his point holds an inexplicable tie to the very history of the tunnels. These underground caverns with their various winding passages exist due to British Rail’s construction and subsequent abandonment of one project to the next. The wasteland of a modern society that gets so easily tired of things deemed old and has a compulsive need to constantly re-invent. It is the realisation that if we are able to utilise existing ideas or materials and engage them with the new we have an opportunity to create something truly inspirational. So then I wonder with all that they hold were these tunnels always destined to play host to Vault Festival, a production that embraces that connection between the past and the present, allowing creativity to flow seemlessly from one to the other.


So what inspired you to produce The Vault Festival?

Well a year ago I started working with Silent Opera and Kindle Theatre and their first production was in London and my company, The Heritage Arts Company we do our own creative work but we are also a producing house for other people so over the last year we have been sort of building plans for them. It became clear that the more you pull the collective stuff, like the venue, the staff and all that obviously it becomes cheaper and so having sort of connected ourselves with them, out of the fog of young artists and practitioners come a hoard of people that you know just need a foothold. So essentially being a producer you see all this stuff you know, you keep looking and looking and looking and things begin to coagulate and then last September, well I started out with Punchdrunk four years ago and so they did the Playstation launch in here at the end of last summer and I was talking to some of those guys and they said “ah you know there’s these old tunnels “ and then suddenly the thing became a possibility of you know I can bring all this stuff together and it can all be in the one place at the same time and so yea it was sort of a combination of serendipity and hard work

And in relation to the location of the event, how key do you think it is?

It’s really central, I think the amazing thing and the thing that unifies all of the work that is part of Vault Festival is the fact that there is not a single piece of work that we are showing, out of the twenty five shows that’s been done anywhere else. I mean there have been hundreds of artists that have come down since before Christmas and their jaws hit the floor. I mean you’ll see some of the backstage stuff later and you’ll see The Furies, it’s at the rawest form. Then you’ll see in some places like the Silent Opera, it’s slightly different or more developed or there’s sort of temperate controlled or humidity controlled, a lot more sanitised and clinical but all of them are a laboratory like a Petri dish for creating work and that’s really a starting point for all of the work we are showing and so the space is absolutely crucial. I mean I guess it’s one of those things like..that thing of site responsive or specifics or however you want to package it, people are interested in that now and I think it’s kind of the re-finding of things, I think it’s part of a whole, its part of a new philosophy of young people and I think especially in the arts suddenly a beginning to re-invent and accepting that something new has to involve something old. I mean I had Nobby Clark, the photographer down here the other day and he was like, they were doing this forty years ago and he was going to the same thing in Prague like forty years ago and he was telling me all these stories and he said it doesn’t make it any less exciting

So it’s that marrying of old material with the new? Retaining some originality but trying to innovate as well, and that’s not always an easy thing to do..

No it isn’t, when we were thinking about Silent Opera there’s sort of a..well this isn’t going to work on the radio but I’m going to draw you a diagram , like if you just imagine a cross , for all the listeners I’m drawing a cross and a horizontal line and on the left it says ‘old’ and on the right it says ‘new’ and on the vertical line it says .. ‘work’ and on the horizontal it says ‘audience’

Ok it’s kind of like a decision matrix..

Yea it’s kind of like game theory! So yea you’ve got the work and then you’ve got the audiences, so the vertical is the work and the horizontal is the audiences , so new work for new audiences that stuff is really tough because you don’t know what you’re selling, no one knows who you are selling to and that’s really difficult

Into the void then..

Yea , ha! It is into the void I guess. So as you go forward, you have old work for old audiences, old work for new audiences and the combination that we have and the stuff that’s really exciting is that people know what we’re talking about. Opera is a well established art form, Kindle Theatre and all of the other content has things that we know about but they’re doing it a new way is the point and so that part of the urgh..Decision matrix is where the cutting edge is, where it is at the minute

Ok and so for you, I mean it’s difficult for you to say because you are kind of at the umbrella of everything but do you have a favourite show, or are there perhaps different elements of different shows that speak to you?

Yea its funny like I thought I’d be able to connect more with the work in the three weeks but there’s a lot of work I have to do, a lot of other things, so I’m dipping into pieces and  I’m seeing like twenty minutes of this and then forty minutes of this or even five minutes of one piece and so it’s hard for me to see the work in its entirety here. But highlights have been seeing people coming out of Silent Opera and they’ve never been to the opera before and it hits them so hard, and the Folk Contraption as well from Rogues’ Gallery, they’ve created a little magical world in there, they’ve come out of nowhere and you know they’ve built the show in like five days and that’s an amazing thing

And have there been any challenges you’ve faced with this project? Anything you would take from this onto the next project?

Sure this is the biggest thing we have ever attempted and it’s going alright

Yea it looks like it!

Yea, ha! Well the scale of this sort of thing, coz we’ve been playing around with festival work for five years now and the scale of this one, you know when you’re doing everything from priming the toilets..

That’s always a nice job..

Yea, ahhh, you know everything from that to running security and stocking a bar, the scale of administration is something we were un prepared for, absolutely immense and those teams that put on festivals I take my hat off to them it’s such a  hard job to do but I think we are managing so yea the biggest challenge for us has just been managing it. There are twenty five creative engines and we are trying to harness them all to go in vaguely the same direction and if they start pulling against each other then they start to come apart from the seams and so with the eight tunnels that we have, people slotting in and trying not to overlap and making sure they jostle in together neatly and quietly, that has been the big thing for us

Ok, and you singled out the Silent opera as being something that has a lot of people going to it who have never been to the opera, so from that who do you think you’re audience are and what is inspiring them to come?

Yea opera is a funny one, I produced it last year for Coming Up Festival between ideas stuff and Old Vic and no one else was for it and they were like “no, it’s never going to work, it’s too expensive” it was a real wild card decision. I thought this one’s really interesting because it proved it then and its proving it here again and hopefully over the next three projects we have it will keep proving it, it appeals to absolutely everyone, we’ve got people of sixteen coming and people of sixty coming in, and out of all the shows we are presenting that’s the one with the biggest age range and course you know people are saying oh its opera for the iPod generation, that was one of the quotes..Although it is that, iPod generation doesn’t mean under 30, I think that’s what Silent Opera is, its self knowing, it knows what it is and exploring that boundary between live and media ties, I think it’s a really interesting thing because it copies every other area of invention from politics to social media, that thing of beginning to blend stuff that’s in the digital world with art work, you know augmented reality and all that

So you mentioned three new projects..Which kind of leads to my next question, what’s next for you?

Well we are working with some guys called Invisible Structures who are part of the Cultural Olympiad to build a, I don’t know whether this is still under NDA or not umm so I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say it or not but it’s a big project in Regents Park in the summer for which we are doing a one man Sci-Fi show with an amazing machine with a huge sort of part machine with a tree on top of it and then we have a tour next year and its possible we may be bringing back Vault next year..and umm this year as well ..That’s a scoop ..I’ve not told anyone that!

I feel so privileged!

There I’ve said it now..

I’m writing this up tonight, during silent opera..

So from your projects last year to now, tell me about your journey..

So from the Coming Up Festival I was the manager I guess so I found the six creatives and nurtured them and nurtured their projects and gave them the budget and everything and now being the creative director, and between that I was the Creative Producer for Ron Arad’s Curtain Call at The Roundhouse..and working with them I’ve never been in a more exciting artistical environment, the people were amazing and Marcus Davey who runs it I think is one of the most inspirational human beings I’ve ever met. I was with Ron Arad at the beginning and he handed me a book with all these names, like a two page list of some of the best artists in the world and I was like “er , really?”..he was like yea “call them, make it happen”.. and on the opening night I was, I kind of had my heart in my  mouth, I said to Marcus “I was sitting next to Terry Gilliam! I can’t believe I’m here with all these people!” and he said “well the point is they’re just human they’re only people” and he said as well “if you know what you’re about or you know what you’re reason for being in any industry or maybe particularly the arts industry if you know why you’re there then it’s okay” and we talked a lot about the bullshit reasons that people say, and he like told me it’s a very personal reason, people go into it for very personal reasons, about why you’re imagination works the way it does and it’s to do with your family and it’s a really deep thing to think and I think when you’ve got that figured out all of the stuff of like someone whose really important or really rich or someone’s really obstinate and wants more money and then god forbid someone falls ill, all the problems and the things we are afraid of sort of melt away. We had Helen Marriage in the other day who runs Artichoke and did The Sultan Elephant, I spent a lot of time with them and she said about that The Sultan Elephant thing when you’re doing a big project like that there comes a stage where you’ve promised so much to enough people it becomes easier to go and fight the world to make that happen rather than to go back to the artist and say sorry I cant do what I promised I would do , keep saying you’ll do it and one day you f* will! You’ll get there!

Ok, well thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, I’m sure you’ve got lots of running around to get back to!

For more information on the Vault Festival or Tim’s other projects with The Heritage Arts Company please visit one of the below.


Follow Chloe on Twitter @sarky_clogz86


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