DONT WALK 2018 Preview: An Interview with Sam Halterman
By: Emma Corcoran
Our Editor-in-Chief Emma Corcoran recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Halterman, the Executive Director of the 2018 DONT WALK Charity Fashion Show. ST.ART now has your exclusive sneak-peek preview of everything you need to know about the show, from the venue and the setup of the runway to the featured designers and the after party acts. Ever wondered what happens behind the scenes? Just read on to find out...
ST.ART Magazine: So tell me a little bit about your experience working for DONT WALK. When did you start and how did your role evolve?
Sam Halterman: Well I started really doing it last year working as the Assistant to the Executive Director – Jacob Øen at the time – and I think immediately when I started, I was very excited and enthusiastic and really happy to be a part of it, so I started doing way more than I needed to. [Jacob] saw that, and the other Directors saw that, and I think they thought, ‘Ok, this guy’s serious about it.’ They started allowing me to go to Director’s meetings, I did that all year, and then it eventually landed me here. So it’s really been last year and this year. I think out of all the possible candidates I was the only one that had the necessary experience because I had been involved with all of those meetings, and we don’t have any of the same Directors doing it this year.
ST.ART: How did you find taking up the role, was it a difficult transition?
SH: Yeah, it was jarring. For the first week, it was just stress dreams and nervousness [laughs]. I didn’t know what I was doing; I had thought I wanted this, but suddenly it seemed like a lot to do. After a little while it was kind of okay, because I knew the motions and I knew what [Jacob] had done because we worked so closely all of last year, and so I reasoned with myself, if I can at least follow that, then it’ll be good. They also prepared quite a comprehensive handover which helped a lot. Just a week of nervousness. All of the Directors were new, and they didn’t quite know what they were doing, and I maybe knew the most about what they were doing, which was unusual. We just had a lot of meetings and did a lot of planning, and by the end of the week we were okay.
ST.ART: What’s been the most rewarding experience so far?
SH: I’m finding the release of content really rewarding. I tend to lean towards the creative side of DONT WALK. I think DONT WALK is primarily a creative organisation, so the release of content and stuff like that has been really enjoyable for me. The launch party was too, obviously, and I think the show itself will be the most rewarding. The release of the website, the release of the videos – kind of this new thing that we’ve done this year in terms of content. Elevated ourselves a little, I hope.
ST.ART: So tell me a little bit about the show. I know last year’s theme was ‘Progress/Regress’. What is the theme this year and how do you hope that the show will embody it?
SH: Okay, so I’ll try to explain a bit about it. Actually, maybe it’s best to explain a bit of how we came to it. Essentially, this year we wanted to go back to the older way of doing things, so 2016 and years previous from a release point of view. We didn’t traditionally release the theme as much as they did last year, and I kind of like the idea of it being a little more secretive, and not solely for the purpose of being ‘secretive’, but so that people come in and they don’t have this presumption of how it’s going to go and what they’re looking at and what they’re looking for. It’s more free-form for people to interpret.
But I’ll tell you a bit about what we’ve done this year, and I’ll focus on stuff we’ve already done and touch on what’s to come. When we were thinking about what to do for the theme, we were thinking of a couple ideas... DONT WALK traditionally is provocative, and we try to deal with current issues in some form, often political, often social. We try to pick a theme that’s both interesting to produce and display and elicits some thought. So this year, we started off with ideas like, ‘Okay, should we do something on celebrity and exhibitionism? No, that’s too niche. Should we do something on protest?’ And we thought, ‘No, that’s a bit too 2016, 2017, and that doesn’t really make sense,’ then thinking, ‘okay, then why doesn’t that makes sense?’ So we thought about the current political and social situation and decided to focus on complacency of public action – I think complacency was a key word for us – and then taking that into account we moved onto, ‘Okay, how can we create a story arc around [complacency] that makes sense for our content and for the show.’ Throughout the year, we’ve focused on the videos we released; they’re each meant to represent a different part of that story arc, or its premise, and then the show which will represent a theoretical action in response to the premise we’ve set up. The premise is meant to be made up of the last two videos, the first one being shot in a Bunker called ‘Ground Control’. We exaggerated everything for it to make sense: dystopia in our current situation, etc. The second shoot – the lingerie shoot – which we wanted to make fantastic and ethereal, is meant to represent a fantasy, and then for the show we’re going to use a metaphor that’s also quite current to depict what happens when one tries to escape from our current situation into something fantastic. It was interesting trying to produce that, because it’s quite a large theme. We didn’t want to focus on something too specific because we thought this was a real issue to discuss, and we couldn’t ignore everything happening in 2018, or everything we expect to happen in 2018 after 2017 and the worry about not dealing with your current situation.
ST.ART: Yeah, it sounds complex but it’ll be so interesting to see how it unveils onstage, especially with the coordination between the fashion and the graphics.
SH: Right, because it’s such a complex theme we’ve focused a lot on coordination in describing the theme. I’m breaking the theme up into two parts for the show: first half and second half, the first half dealing more so with the premise of it depicted in our videos -- and then the second half dealing with the action in response to it through our chosen metaphor. So we’ve focused a lot on coordinating all of the show’s components: having the music, having the fashion, having the choreography all represent both aspects of that, the 1st half and 2nd half. I think that change will be very obvious: there’s a stark change in music, change in fashion… we’ve tried as much as we can to make this as coherent as possible, which I think is always helpful. In terms of planning I think we’ve done a good job of it this year. That being said, the metaphor being focused on in the 2nd half will be present in all aspects of the show, and though we’ve alluded to it slightly, I think that will become very obvious as you arrive at the venue.
ST.ART: Well now that you say ‘Escape’ it sort of sheds light on a lot of the graphics you’ve already released: the models standing in the field of flowers, videos of flowers blooming and opening up. I think with DONT WALK you incorporate natural imagery but also there’s this focus on technology and the surveillance society or political issues; it creates this dichotomy between hard and soft, and so that’ll be really interesting to see, too.
SH: Definitely. It’s interesting to be in a marquee, though; it’s a very different space to work with, so it challenges production and creatives to come up with decoration ideas and how to work with the space. I think it’s a much harder space to work in than Kinkell was. But also having a theme that incorporates minimalism helps with that, so in a way, we try to make the marquee intentional and the bareness of it a bit more intentional. Not too bare, but less warm than Kinkell.
ST.ART: I suppose if it is barer, the graphics and the fashion coming down the runway will have that much bigger of an impact because there aren’t any distractions. I envision that being very successful.
SH: Yeah, I hope so. And we’re still working, we have a lot of stuff that we’re planning to do, and the Creative Team is working everyday on what else they can do. We allocated a lot to the creative budget this year so that they could have the potential to do some really cool stuff, some really out-there stuff. My first year going to DONT WALK was 2016, and I loved how they did it; it was still in Kinkell, but ‘Surveillance Society’ was fantastic to attend, so I think we’re trying to recapture some of that.
ST.ART: So these past three years, you’ve had the show at a different location: last year it was at Cambo Estate, and the year before that it was in Kinkell, obviously.
SH: And this year we’re next to the Old Course. It should be really interesting. It presents some logistical issues: we’re erecting sound barriers and trying to put the marquee up as soon as possible. We’re kind of in town but a little out of town, but we’ve organised transport just in case people don’t want to walk both ways. At the same time, if all goes well, I’m very happy; we’ve never closer to town.
ST.ART: It’s definitely more convenient. So are you excited about this location? Was it one of your first choices?
SH: DONT WALK was the first event to use Kinkell at all ten years ago when it wasn’t really used for anything except weddings. I think [Kinkell] is an ideal setup for the fashion show and for DONT WALK: it’s rustic, it has a local vibe about it but still can be transformed a lot – again, it’s a warmer space and there’s more that you can do with it. But I think the reason that the directors chose to move last year was because Kinkell comes with certain restrictions. Building a marquee, we can do whatever we want, we can hire whomever we want… that’s one of my favourite things about DONT WALK from an organisational perspective in comparison with other organisations in st andrews: we’re not associated with the University, we’re completely private, so we can do whatever we want; we can have our own bar, we have fewer logistical hoops to jump through, etc. We’ve had some pretty risqué shows in years past, and I love that we can express ourselves in whatever way we want… Last year we did too, obviously, so in terms of a cost benefit, it made sense for us to move from Kinkell and to escape those restrictions as well. So that’s one reason for the move from Kinkell. This year we’ve continued to try to be as independent as possible, just a bit closer to town.
ST.ART: I actually really liked last year’s marquee; I liked what you did with the lighting on the walls and how the different colours just kind of illuminated the space.
SH: Yeah, there will be some of that but we’ve done a lot more with production this year. Last year unfortunately due to scheduling issues and the Scottish winds we didn’t have an abundance of time to do tech rehearsals; we only had one tech rehearsal last year, for example. This year we have five. That’s why we’re building the marquee tomorrow (February 16th): we’re giving ourselves a long production week, and that’s kind of in the interest of doing more with production. We already know what we’re going to do, and that’s not going to be changed, but there’s a lot of new lighting, there’s an emphasis on the videography that I think has been so successful this year, the screens… it’ll be really cool to have a big DJ booth, so I think people will be excited for that. Even the structure of the show is slightly changed. I think people expect DONT WALK to have a new stage and new choreography, obviously, those kinds of things, but people don’t expect us to change the way we do production necessarily; it’s kind of always a surprise because you can’t anticipate how it might be different. We have changed the structure of the intro certainly and the structure of the final look in the end-drop, so that’ll be exciting to see.
ST.ART: Definitely. It’s kind of nice in a way, because if people have certain expectations about the show and then you come in and present something completely different…
SH: Yes, but it’s always a challenge. I think people expect DONT WALK to be different every year because they know we have a new location, they expect a new stage a new stage, they can see it’s a new marquee, and I think people should anticipate this because we put such an emphasis on doing things differently every year. If we had the same stage they’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s weird, DONT WALK has never had the same stage two years in a row, what went wrong?’ So in a way, we have to go really above and beyond to surpass the expectations of change.
ST.ART: It’s impressive how you’re constantly pushing the boundaries and going further and seeing what you’re capable of achieving as an organisation; that’s really cool to see as an audience member.
SH: Thank you! It’s impressive because it’s really the whole team that’s been pushing them. Personally, my project for the year has been very much an organisational one. One thing I really wanted to do in the Executive role was to allow the organisation to do more. It’s very difficult for us because we have really high turnover. Students do it for a year or two, some for three, but then they graduate and their knowledge is often just lost. People aren’t typically overly interested in participating in it after they’ve graduated or after the show’s over if they’re not planning to do it again next year; it’s a very creative organisation, so people like to do their creative stuff and then move on. One of my favourite things that we did this year was to have an archive on the website – I love seeing that. We have so much more material that I’ve been able to gather from previous Creative Directors. I want to take every position and make a comprehension amalgamation of their work. That’s really my project for this year: to make an internal archive for next year so that if we were to have a completely new committee, as long as everyone was relatively competent, everyone would be able to know how to do at least the same job logistically, if not a better one.
ST.ART: I think having a digital archive solidifies your brand image; it captures DONT WALK in its essence.
SH: Exactly, and even if you’re in DONT WALK you look back – I didn’t know what happened in 2012. But now we can look back. After we had done the Bunker shoot, we looked back and realised that we had done it six years ago. But we did it a little differently. Actually, not that differently – we had very similar ideas of how to use that space, but I suppose that speaks to our creative continuity.
ST.ART: Wow, that’s really cool to see.
SH: It is cool to see. It’s been my big project for the year, extending that archive to all branches of DONT WALK.
ST.ART: I think that’s a testament to your abilities as a Director, to maintain that brand image; doing a photoshoot that shared such similarities with a previous one, and you hadn’t even known it. That’s pretty impressive.
SH: That’s true in regards to brand image. I think the goal in the creation of the archive wasn’t to create any sort of similarity between years but actually to promote differences. We’re not trying to produce the same event every year; it’s exactly the opposite. So I’m excited about that. It’s boring to gather all the materials, but I’m glad that it’s there.
ST.ART: What I love about DONT WALK is that it’s like a conceptual art show; the fashion is intricate and out-there. Do you have a favourite designer? Are you excited for any certain piece to come down the runway?
SH: I wouldn’t say that I have a favourite designer. The only reason we would go for a really big designer is for sponsorship credibility; that’s why any fashion show would do that, really. If you say, ‘We have Chanel’ then sponsors will say, ‘Oh great, you have Chanel, we’ll give you money.’ Last year and this year we’ve done really well on the sponsorship side and haven’t needed to do that, and so we’ve been trying to focus more on the smaller designers, medium-sized designers, the people you don’t necessarily know who produce more conceptual stuff. So there are certainly quite a few that I’m excited about, although I’m always most excited about the final look that the Creative Team makes themselves – that’s gonna be good. And this year, it’s really good because the way we’ve organised it I think the theme will come together at the end and the story will make the most sense after you see the final look.
ST.ART: So the Creative Team comes up with a design concept and puts together the garment?
SH: Yeah, they have every year. Last year they didn’t make the flower dress; they had to have a florist make it, but nonetheless I think it looked excellent. But this year, they’re making it themselves. So that’s always fun, and it’s meant to convey an aspect the theme, and it’s the end of the show.
ST.ART: It’s a nice way to wrap it up; it’s like saying ‘This is our project’ and putting your name on it.
SH: That’s what it is: it’s an art project. I have three ways of explaining DONT WALK to someone. It’s an organisation that operates a bit like a start-up; it promotes young people learning how to interact in an organisation to make a successful production. It’s a charity, obviously, that’s fantastic in my mind. And it’s an art project. For me, it’s always been an art project and mostly that, and I think that’s great. In St Andrews we don’t have anything beyond our academics, so if DONT WALK can allow people to express themselves through choreography, through fashion, through music… I think that’s what we try to do.
ST.ART: I mean, an organisation like DONT WALK is great because it brings together people who share a passion for art and who want to promote that passion.
SH: Similar to what you guys do.
ST.ART: Yeah, definitely. Coming from an arts/literary journal I feel like I can appreciate that, but I think anyone on campus can obviously appreciate, too. So you’ve recently announced your music line-up. Are you excited for that?
SH: I am excited for it. It was a bit of a last-minute scuffle last year, so I’m excited to have it set and ready earlier. I’m most excited to have a grime artist come because that’s something that no event in St Andrews has ever done; that’s kind of an innovation for me, also I enjoy the music. [AJ Tracey] is a fantastic performer, and I’m sure we’ll see that. Having some American DJs come and do more traditional after-party music is fantastic, too. They will be playing their own stuff, but they’re going to mix and match it with some groovier stuff. We have a really broad musical showing throughout the show; the show music is very different from the after-party music, so those people who will be there from 7:00 until 3am will experience a lot of different stuff. Also, the 3am license – that’s exciting. I hope the police are okay with it [laughs]. That’s probably my biggest worry actually: I’m scared of the police because I’m not used to the show being in town.
ST.ART: I’m sure it will be fine – you have a license, you have security.
SH: We have a license, we have security, we have a meeting coming up with the police to make sure it’s okay... we’re doing lots of stuff to make sure it’s okay.
ST.ART: Yeah, it’s funny how so many little things go into putting together such an event, all those smaller details that might be easy to forget.
SH: Yeah, it’s mostly nerve-racking. I was sitting with two of the other Directors last night for a drink, because that’s how we go to sleep now [laughs] and we were just sitting there like, ‘What are we forgetting? What are we forgetting?’ I mean, we’re obviously going to forget something but hopefully it’s a small detail. Hopefully it’s something that can be rectified in production.
ST.ART: Well the fact that you’re having five tech rehearsals, I mean, having that kind of practice might help put you a little bit more at ease.
SH: I hope so. I’ll actually feel so much better once the marquee’s up tomorrow, weather permitting. Also very excited. Very anxious, very excited. It’s a great week. It’s probably my favourite week. It’s also my least favourite week [laughs]. These last two weeks are my favourite two weeks of the year and my least favourite weeks of the year.
ST.ART: I’m sure the stress and anxiousness but also excitement of these past two weeks leading up to the show will all be worth it though when you’re standing in front of the stage and watching your work over the entire year unfold. I can imagine that’ll be an incredible feeling.
SH: Yeah, I’m sure it will be – as short as it will be. It really is a year of work, for one night [laughs]. That’s why we try to push the content so much. But I’m really happy with it so far. We’re on track to put on the biggest and hopefully best show yet. There’s always some last-minute stuff, though, especially when we’re trying to make it as creatively cohesive as possible, but we’re trying to pay a lot of attention to detail. The fact that we’re so concerned with detail right now is actually probably a good thing, because it means that there are no larger issues to deal with.
ST.ART: Yeah, definitely. That’s so exciting.
SH: It is really exciting. I’m excited for FS too; FS will be fantastic this weekend.
ST.ART: It’s nice also that they coincide with the other fashions shows happening now during Fashion Week.
SH: Although it is difficult with designers because they don’t want to send their clothes. Like New York Fashion Week, we can’t get the clothes on Monday; we need them now [laughs], just in case they don’t get here in time. We have to do fittings for one. I was just talking to our Head of Fashion about that, but hopefully it will be okay; we have two designers still to come from New York Fashion Week, so I’m excited for them to be here. Also I think my favourite thing about our fashion show season isn’t really that they’re fashion shows; I like fashion shows, and I grew up going to Fashion Week, but I think it’s the scale of these events, the fact that students put on these productions, and we have a couple of them. I think that’s really the reason I do it and why it makes it so exciting. St Andrews very much feels like a bunch of 20 year-olds pretending to be 30 year-olds [laughs] so the fact that we have these fashion shows makes sense.