Sacha Savenkoff’s Journey to Technical Director – Part 2
By Liam Klenk
An interest in night life and parties was how Sacha Savenkoff’s journey to technical director began. Playing with lighting and sound at the clubs led him to become an enthusiastic hobby technician. Until he found his way to one of Europe’s largest theme parks where a multitude of challenges quickly turned him from amateur to pro. It was there as well, where Sacha found his passion for ice shows. In this second part of our interview find out more about how Sacha’s career continued…
Our ice show in Europa-Park Rust in Germany was produced by an English company called Stageworks Worldwide Productions. They produced the ice shows in our park for about 10 years.
Stageworks had their own ice show in Blackpool in the UK. It was run by a lady called Amanda Thompson. She would come to Europa-Park each time a new show would be produced and created.
Amanda was passionate about our shows. Thus, she was quite an energetic, dominant presence.
It was 2001 when I did my first creation with Amanda and Stageworks. We got along really well.
The rehearsal and creation phase was fascinating for me. I wasn’t used to all these relationships and dynamics during the production period.
I enjoyed changing and programming the tracks for them. It was a new experience to be able to watch it all come together.
Then Stagework’s lighting designer Paul Lee came onsite. It was the first time I realized such a profession actually existed. I had never been aware of lighting designer being a career choice. Discovering this fact was enlightening (no pun intended).
Paul’s presence during our creation inspired me greatly. I wanted to program more, learn how to design more.
I stayed behind after the shows, experimented, and played with the lights.
Then, the ice show organization at Europa-Park changed. This had a huge impact on my career.
In 2002, the park management decided not to work with Stageworks anymore. Instead, they opted to produce the shows themselves. Norbert Schramm, a former German ice skating champion became the designated director for our new shows.
It was with Norbert that I was given my very first opportunity to design the lighting for a show. I programmed the entire show. However, I was lucky to have the strong support of a more experienced lighting technician who had been trained in theatre.
It was great to be able to be creative. When our show premiered, I had this profound feeling of having accomplished something amazing.
Afterwards, I programmed the lighting for most ice shows, as well as for dinner shows, etc.
I stayed at Europa-Park until January 2006.
My girlfriend at the time was an ice skater and had worked for Stageworks before. Amanda knew us both, which resulted in both of us getting an offer to work in Blackpool.
A lucky stroke for any technician-performer couple. Because there isn’t much choice out there. It has to be someone who knows you, understands, and has a job for you all at the same time.
Blackpool has an amusement park called Pleasure Beach. Part of this park was the ice show Hot Ice, which was managed by Stageworks.
Hot Ice is the longest running ice show. With only few interruptions, it has been running for the record-time of eighty-four years.
Pleasure Beach features the first purpose-built ice arena. The ice rink is in the round. It has an elevated stage which is also comprised of real ice. Two ramps lead from the elevated stage ice to the main ice.
At the time I arrived there, the show included lasers, pyrotechnics and flame throwers as well as water effects. In the grid we had six scenery winches and seven performer flying winches. I fell in love with the venue immediately.
However, at first there was no place for me, so I worked at the circus musical Eclipse, which was also produced by Stageworks for the same park. 2006 was the musical’s final year.
In 2007, just after the musical closed, a position at the ice show became available.
The lighting department in Blackpool was run a lot more professionally then what I had been used to at Europa-Park. Everything was organized diligently. Thus, during my first year there, my maintenance skills improved considerably.
I was responsible for maintaining my own lighting rig. I was already familiar with the technical layout of it, but I had to learn much more in-depth how to maintain, repair, and troubleshoot.
Of course, there were some struggles as well. But I had people from the team supporting me.
Our ice show season always ran for 8 months. Rehearsals would begin in March and last 5-6 weeks. Then, we would perform the show daily until November that same year.
In 2007, I began working for the company Russian Ice Stars during our off-season.
The Russian ice show company produced several shows. The style was theatrical. A sort of ice ballet. Productions were, for example: Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White on Ice.
I was based in Blackpool for over three years, and that is also where I met my wife Audrey.
At the end of 2008, we were informed that the decision was made to cancel Hot Ice for the 2009 season, as repairs needed to be done in the venue.
Soon out of a job, I looked into my contacts. My network. It was small because essentially I was this unknown French guy who had ended up in England and didn’t know anybody.
But, thankfully, the ice skating world is a very small professional universe and the few contacts I had were enough. I contacted Julian Deplidge, the producer of the Russian Ice Stars.
He had just created a new show called Cirque de Glace.
Cirque de Glace was touring in the UK and it already had a Head of Lighting. However, because Julian and I had worked together before, he said, “I’ll get you a spot backstage and you can be LX2.”
In January 2009, I was happy to join their tour for six months.
It being a touring show meant we would have to build and break the ice each week we changed venues. For load-in and load-out this would mean all hands on deck. Everyone would do everything. We would also have a big local crew at each venue. Especially for the get-out.
When you went into the venue, everything would have to be done in a certain order. For example, you would have to rig your lights first so that while you set up, the ice machine wouldn’t be idle.
In July 2009, when the tour was over, my wife and I decided to go back to France. Audrey had already decided to try performing for cruise ships and was cast for the take-out of the Oasis of the Seas, the newest and largest cruise ship in the world at the time.
I hadn’t heard much about cruise ships up until that point. Hadn’t really ever thought about them either. I had no idea how massive the cruise ship entertainment industry is.
RCL entertainment for example, is now one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world.
I was a bit undecided at first and stayed at home for a while. Then, my ex-technical director from Blackpool called me and asked, “Are you doing anything?”
He was involved with a production company called Bor Productions that was producing the new shows for one of the small MSC ships, the Sinfonia. It was supposed to be seven different variety shows with different themes.
I signed with Bor Productions and had my very first cruise ship experience. I ended up sailing for six months with them, starting in Europe.
After Europe, we went to the west coast of Africa, then to South Africa. We were stationed in Durban.
While I worked for MSC, I did my interview with Royal Caribbean and was offered a contract as lighting technician on the Navigator of the Seas. Audrey was able to get a spot in the ice cast on the same ship.
In September 2010, I left for Rome. And embarked on the Navigator of the Seas.
Read more about Sacha Savenkoff’s journey to Technical Director in Part 3…