Article, Arts & Culture, Community, Social Justice

Meet Samantha Walters: Interdisciplinary Performance Artist and Program Assistant

July 26, 2023

Since September 2022, we’ve held 42 events and workshops, released 33 podcast episodes, and engaged more than 25,000 podcast listeners. During that time, working diligently behind the scenes—editing podcast audio, and supporting communications and events programming—was our interim Programs Assistant Samantha Walters, who we are pleased to announce has now moved into a continuing role in the office.

Samantha is an SFU alumnus from the School of Contemporary Arts with a BFA in Theatre Performance, minor in English, and a certificate in Performance Studies. Their most recent works examine ecological relationships and post-human spiritualities, with a heavy favour towards the weird, the dark, and the camp. You might have heard Sam on recent podcast episodes, such as one with Erika Latta, where Sam asks Erika to weigh in on why performance making is important within our present moment.

We sat down with Samantha to learn more about her performance making, some of her past works, and how they have been merging their practice within their work at SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement (SFU VOCE).

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. 

Can you introduce yourself and your interests, inside and outside of work?

My name is Samantha Walters, but usually once I’ve met you I start going by Sam. I was born in England and raised in Hong Kong, moving to the lower mainland in 2018. I've been at SFU VOCE since last year as the interim Program Assistant and I’m grateful to be continuing that position. 

Samantha working on the podcast at our 312 Main Office

Outside of work here, I’m an interdisciplinary performance artist and writer. Interdisciplinary meaning I just like to try out a lot of different contemporary forms and lean into weird things. I direct ensemble-based devised performances and audience-activated installations. I have a BFA in Theatre Performance from SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, and since graduating last year I’ve also been branching out to more visual and media arts projects. 

Having a job and being an artist means a kind of double duty of labour, but I’m really trying to make sure to cultivate hobbies that don’t directly contribute to monetary or career gain. Right now that’s playing The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and reading (just finished The Listeners by Jordan Tannahill, which is great). I also want to get back into baking bread, I was really on that in 2020. Also also, does anyone want to form a trivia team with me?

What got you interested in performance making?

Like most folks who go on to get a theatre degree, I had grand dreams of being an actor when I was younger. I still act occasionally but that’s not something I’d want to do full-time anymore. It’s odd because I’ve always been a quiet person, but there’s something in performance as an event and shared energy that’s always enlivened me. In high-school I was fortunate that my curriculum included learning about theatre outside of English histories, like Kabuki and Theatre of the Oppressed. I also got the chance to learn about devised performance and create my own performances.

Samantha in a class at the SCA

When I started at SFU, I got exposed to a really expanded definition of performance, and I’ve become much more interested in that than traditional theatre methods. I think ‘performance art’ is a bit of a punching bag in general popular culture, but performance can span from the most extravagant operetta to the minutiae of everyday encounters and how we hold ourselves in public space.

Can you tell me about one or two projects in the past you were a part of that really felt special to you, or you feel you learned a lot from?

Order of the New Hyphae is a show that’s really my baby. It's an immersive, devised performance that reconstructs ecological thought and posthuman spiritualities through the lens of an apocalyptic fungi cult. I initially created it as my capstone project for undergrad, creating it with a group of peers, and had the chance to remount it recently with the same group for Rumble Theatre’s 2023 Tremors Festival. It was such a great experience to have my first ‘real world’ gig be a show that felt so collaborative and was just deeply fun.

Another project I’ve been working on in the past year is a one-on-one performance called Demoviction Tarot. I invite folks into a tiny canvas playhouse for a modified tarot reading using a Vancouver-inspired deck I designed, with cards such as ‘the six of roommates,’ ‘the Vancouver special,’ and a whole house named after Residential Tenancy Branch forms. The artistic research for that project felt really rewarding, as I then got to implement a kind of direct tenant advocacy lens in the performance itself. I’m really looking forward to returning to work on that one.

Photo of 'Demoviction Tarot' Cards by Samantha Walters

What drew you to this position with SFU VOCE?

Perhaps it’s cheesy to say that upon graduating I was looking to work somewhere that ‘makes a difference in the world,’ but I am grateful to be employed somewhere that shares my values and does genuinely provide space for the local community. Getting to be a part of the behind the scenes of great events like with Chinese Queers Will Not Be Censored or the recent Smokey D screening are really gratifying, especially when they create new community connections. 

In the office, the joke is that my role as Program Assistant is the ‘swiss army knife’ position as I jump around to different projects and assist in all things from event production to communications to podcast editing. 

Some of our work links community engagement with different forms of artmaking and practice. What do you think is important about this connection?

There’s definitely a lot of transferable knowledge. I feel like in artmaking, it’s really important to consider your audience or community, especially in performance where things really come alive when they’re in dialogue with others and sharing energy. It’s a huge topic of discussion, like the role of art in political movements, but I like to think about it in the way that art allows us to think through some pretty complicated ideas creatively and imaginatively. It lets us feel through and embody topics in ways that other mediums don’t focus on. Plus collective engagement with artmaking and empowering neighbours to create together is a really powerful means of community building and advocacy. 

Can you tell us a bit about this upcoming episode you’ll be spearheading in the fall? 

Yeah, so Julia Aoki, Kathy Feng, and I will all be producing interviews for Below the Radar in the fall, and although we’re still in the planning phase currently, it seems we’re all invested in questions of space and affordability for arts and culture in Vancouver. In particular, I’m interested in some of the structural barriers performance makers experience in the city, and am hoping to talk to arts administrators who are advocating for policy changes. 

Any upcoming projects that you would like to share?

Yes! I’m currently a part of the Emerging Creators Incubator at the Evergreen Cultural Centre and we have a gallery exhibition opening at the art gallery there that’ll be running August 3rd to September 3rd. My piece in the show is an interactive installation involving letter writing, hometowns, and intersecting experiences of coloniality. If you come by on the opening night on August 3rd, I’ll also be presenting a performance in the theatre.

Stay tuned for Sam’s upcoming Below the Radar episode, releasing in the Fall 2023 season. Subscribe to our mailing list to ensure you don’t miss it.

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