When you picture the elusive underground arts scene, your mind usually wanders to undiscovered but utterly brilliant theatre companies, unheard of scripts and the Next Big Thing at the Edinburgh Fringe… Basically the underground arts scene doesn’t literally mean the under-the-ground arts scene, unless you’re talking about VAULT Festival, that is.

VAULT Festival, London’s six-week arts festival takes place within The Vaults in Leake Street, 10 metres beneath a graffiti tunnel. This week I spoke to Rosie Kellett and Elf Lyons, two young artists both performing at VAULT for the first time this year, all about their new shows, what they will bring to the festival, and how it is being an emerging theatre-maker in today’s somewhat crowded artistic climate.

“I came to the festival last year,” explains Rosie, the brains behind SKINT – a wickedly funny story of four young twenty-somethings trying to get to grips with London life, “what’s great about VAULT is that they have the artist’s best interests at heart, they are enormously supportive”. Elf Lyons, a performer on the stand-up and cabaret circuit and curator of Being Barbarella agreed: “VAULT Festival supports artists who are keen to take risks, it’s a great platform to feel free to experiment!” What seems to unite both artists in their creative process is focusing on what is real and what matters to them… “I started writing SKINT in 2014,” Kellett explained, “and all I hoped to achieve is for people to enjoy it. SKINT should leave you asking questions about your city and the way we live in it.” Lyons’ Being Barbarella, a fast-paced time-travelling exploration through the world of sexuality, also centres on the audience’s amusement – “I wrote about what makes me laugh, I also performed all material at comedy nights to ensure everything was good and sharp”.

VAULT Festival, at its core, strives for innovation in creation, performance and engagement, aiming to bring audiences the unexpected, yet in a truthful way. I then questioned both theatre-makers the extent of which their pieces mirror this artistic objective. “SKINT is a very honest look at what it means to be a young Londoner today,” Kellett explained, “I think a lot of our audiences will identify with it.” Lyons then related, “I would say my show is definitely unexpected! It’s a stand-up piece with heart and emotion, alongside surprising whimsy and eccentricity”. And what do each believe they bring to the London arts scene? “I am a very proud-to-be court-jester, storyteller and raconteur rabble rouser, I love to make people laugh,” Lyons proclaimed, whilst Kellett added “I hope to amplify the voices of young Londoners, especially creatives.”

As is common knowledge, the arts scene in London is extremely well-populated, and VAULT, however exciting and unique it may be in its mission, is one of many in the theatre festival field. So, something I deemed utterly crucial to question when chatting to Kellett and Lyons was what it is like to be both a young and emerging theatre-maker in today’s artistic climate. “As an emerging artist there is always the pressure to prove yourself, and there’s an element of expectation that precedes your work. The flipside of course is that you don’t have a reputation to live up to, allowing you a lot of freedom”. “I love what I do despite being 1) always busy, 2) a bit stressed and 3) very tired,” Lyons laughed, “one thing that naturally happens is that you build an unhealthy love/hate relationship with coffee… equalling little sleep and palpitations! But despite all this, I am very happy!” Lyons then went on to mention the organisations that support emerging artists. “Due to collectives such as IdeasTap and VAULT there are more opportunities than ever before for young artists. I work 24/7 and as I am self-employed it can be a lot of pressure, but it’s worth it when you have the buzz of the first performance!”

And what are each budding theatre stars’ next steps after their stint at VAULT? “I’m going to sleep!” laughs Kellett, “I also have a few other projects that I’ve had to put to one side, so I’m looking forward to getting back to those.” Lyons, on the other hand, is continuing her work with Being Barbarella, “I’m taking the show to Australia for the Adelaide Fringe, and when I return the show will be touring to Oxford and then the Edinburgh Fringe! Then, world domination.”

Whatever their next steps I am sure Kellett and Lyons will continue down their paths of brilliant, funny and very real theatre-making. Being a young, emerging artist amongst many other solo performers and theatre companies is no easy feat, but thanks to unique initiatives like VAULT Festival, this is not only possible, but celebrated.

Being Barbarella is on Feb 4-7 at Vault Festival – more details here.
SKINT is on Feb 4-8 at Vault Festival – more details here.