Who Got the Gig? Samantha Walker
Auckland-based theatre company Nightsong, co-founded by Carl Bland and Ben Crowder, aims to generate a transformative experience for audiences. They’re famous for incorporating a wide range of artforms including music, puppetry, visual arts, illusion, and choreographed movement in their work.
Recently they advertised on The Big Idea for a new producer/general manager to join their small but extraordinary team. Samantha Walker was the chosen candidate, boasting an impressive career that spans radio, arts marketing, and even sustainability.
Ambition and attraction
Samantha emphasises that the creative energies of Ben and Carl are what appealed to her and ultimately influenced her to apply for the position. “They create such incredible story-telling, visual appeal and remarkable staging. For a small independent company, the ambition and the scale of the work that they do is really quite exceptional. That is what makes Nightsong stand apart from the rest.”
As with most arts organisations, it’s a very busy time of the year for Nightsong, and Samantha says she has hit the ground running since starting. “Recently we presented at the PANNZ Art Market where we showcased three productions. One we’re very excited about is Mr Red Light, which will premiere in September at the Herald Theatre. We've got an incredible cast who have agreed to be part of the play, including Trygve Wakenshaw - an acclaimed physical comedian who will be returning from Prague to take up the role of Mr Red Light. Also cast is Jennifer Ludlam, Simon Ferry, and Richard Te Are. We've got some pretty great names involved and we’re really proud of this work.”
Born in the UK but raised in New Zealand, Samantha completed a Bachelor of Communications through AUT, and has since been living and working overseas for nearly two decades, occupying a variety of positions within two quite distinct careers in both radio and the arts. Over the last decade she has worked in the arts as a fundraiser and marketer for ensembles, festivals, and venues, including as head of marketing and development for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, and marketing director of the Britten Sinfonia, a world-renowned chamber ensemble. “Later I went to work as director of marketing and fundraising for a fantastic contemporary music festival in London called Spitalfields Music. Spitalfields is an incredibly exciting part of London, it’s full of really interesting historical nooks and crannies. The festival was about discovering hidden places and setting up performances in really unlikely spots. We programmed things in people's front rooms, in basements of pubs… that was part of the fun.”
A passion for sustainability
While living in Cambridge and tiring of her commute to London, Samantha decided she wanted to return to University to undertake a Master of Science in sustainability at Anglia Ruskin University. She has always had a great passion for sustainability and was further inspired by the Arts Council England’s environmental sustainability policy, which was introduced while she was working at Spitalfields. “They require their regularly funded organisations to put in place a number of sustainable practices as a condition of their funding. One condition was having an environmental policy signed off by their board and then each year reporting on how much electricity, gas and water that their organisation had used. The information is compiled into a central database run by fantastic organisation called Julie’s Bicycle which allowed the carbon footprint of England’s art sector to be measured.”
Samantha’s MSc thesis explored some of the outcomes of that policy and looked into what was happening here in New Zealand as well. “I wanted to know what the strategies were, and where New Zealand arts organisations potentially sat on the sustainability scale. I looked at some of the enabling and limiting factors for introducing a greater focus on sustainability here in New Zealand.”
“Life takes you places and I think there is something to be said for always being open to possibility."
The first half of Samantha’s career in radio was very planned, being something she had wanted to do since she was a teenager, but the second half of her career in the arts was less so: “Life takes you places and I think there is something to be said for always being open to possibility. Don't be afraid to reach out and get in contact with people. Meet them and see if there is opportunity for you! A lot of the roles that I've had have arisen from simply reaching out. So if you have a passion for something don't wait to be invited, try to create those opportunities for yourself. Generally speaking, people are actually really helpful and welcoming — they want people to progress and succeed in their sector. Get to know people, and wherever you can try to create opportunities for yourself as much as responding to those that come along.”
Samantha tells me that all the leaders she has worked for in the arts sector have been inspirational. One example she gave was Angela Dixon, who worked alongside Samantha as chief executive for a new performing arts venue, Saffron Hall. “I worked with her at a time when it was just her and me running things; getting the show on the road. She'd never been a chief executive of a venue before… she knew venues very well but this role was entirely new for her. She taught me that when you are doing something for the first time, you're never going to get it completely right. Sometimes you can be worried about getting things wrong, particularly if it’s a costly mistake. What she tried to impart to the team was to not let the fear of getting it wrong cripple you from making decisions. If we get it wrong we look at why we got it wrong and we learn from it. I think that is quite an inspiring thing. Leaders often send a message out that they absolutely know what they are doing at all times, but that's not always the case. I think there is incredible strength in saying, ‘actually right now I don't know what I'm doing but I'll give it my best shot."
All images kindly supplied by Samantha Walker and Nightsong.