Sacha Savenkoff’s Journey to Technical Director – Part 1
By Liam Klenk
Recently, Sacha Savenkoff and I met for a fascinating interview. So interesting, in fact, that we couldn’t stop talking and, instead of this being just one article, it ended up being a story in 3 parts. Sacha Savenkoff’s Journey to Technical Director started with one of the most natural things for any teenager: an interest in parties. In Part 1 of his life story, Sacha tells us what initially developed from that…
I grew up in Europe, in the Strassbourg area, in France, right next to the border of Germany.
And yes, my interest for the industry originated from an interest in night life. Like most teenagers, I loved music, clubs, and parties. And I loved to be anywhere where I could find those three.
Because my aunt knew someone who owned a night club, I was exposed to night clubs from an early age, around 13/14. More than anything, I wanted to become a DJ.
I started meeting the DJs who were hanging out at my aunt’s friend’s club. But I also started playing with the lights. And being able to do that in the club was a very cool thing.
I was fascinated by the technical side of night entertainment and developed a strong interest in sound, light, and music.
At the time, I really didn’t realize the potential for all the different jobs in the entertainment industry. I was simply a geek who thought it was cool to play with technical equipment.
I would buy magazines. SONO magazine for example. It still exists in France and is all about sound and light equipment.
It was the 90ies, when my passion for lighting equipment began. I still remember to this day when Clay Paky came out with their new scanner: The Golden Scan 3.
It had great output, was very reliable, had rotating Gobos. It had everything you need to have.
I wanted to find out more about the Golden Scan 3. At that time we had no Internet. What you had to do was send them a postcard with your address. Then they would send you a VHS tape. So I sent my postcard to them in Italy. Two weeks later, I received the VHS.
Here is the video I received back then:
It looks horribly old-fashioned now, but back then it was the latest and best lighting fixture on the market!
When I was around 17/18 years old, I became a DJ. House and Techno music, undergroundish, until I was about 25 years old.
I worked in clubs and bars.
But, I also needed a job that paid the bills.
I left school when I was 18. And started doing odd jobs. Driving a van, etc.
My best friend Marc worked for the German Europa-Park Rust at the time. It is a huge theme park and resort. They needed people for the daily operation of the park and shows. And so, in 2000, through the recommendation of my friend, I was hired as a lighting technician.
The Europa-Park had a variety theatre show. It was cabaret-like. Three variety acts.
Furthermore, the park had an ice show, a horse show, and a replica of the Shakespeare Globe Theatre.
When I started out, our lighting team consisted of 6-7 people who ran all shows every day.
There are the main shows which are free and part of the park experience. On top of that, however, the park does a lot of events. The events side is massive.
The infrastructure for everything is right there. The events department is called ‘Confertainment’ (conferences and entertainment).
For the events side, the park even invested in a large permanent tent, built by the well-known architect Mario Botta. The tent can hold about 1’500 people.
Two of the special events I did during my time at Europe-Park stand out in my memory.
The first was when I was part of the lighting team for the Miss Germany Beauty Pageant.
The second was when I did the sound for Angela Merkel, when she ran her first campaign for the German chancellorship in 2005.
In events like that you end up with a lot of pressure on your shoulders.
Because, if you mess up, you will make her look bad. Because she is someone important, someone famous.
The Europa-Park was a lot of fun. Think of it as a massive toy store. So many toys. Thousands of people. It was a big part of my life. I really enjoyed working there.
How I got there shows you how you can randomly find jobs through networking. I got my first job in the entertainment industry because my best friend worked there for a while and opened the door for me.
For my career, this turned out to be monumentally important. My time at Europa-Park turned me from an amateur technician into a professional technician.
And, being mostly a lighting geek, the ice show became by far my favorite show. I was over the moon because it had three Golden Scan 3s! In the end, ice shows really stuck with me.
It is just the way the light looks on the ice. You can do so many amazing things. So much more effectively than you would be able to do them on a dark stage.
In 2002, the park started using Grand’MA lighting consoles, which were a game changer at the time! Many nights, I was able to stay in the ice arena all night and play around. I learned a lot.
For 10 years, lighting became my focus. I was able to run sound for our shows as well, but my sound knowledge never went as far as my knowledge and competence in lighting did.
LX was where the love was. But, of course, I also did what needed doing.
Over time, my mind craved growth. In an amusement park, a certain sense of repetition comes quickly. Every day is pretty much the same. It will be the same show every day, three to four times a day, for many months. This made it hard to stay motivated sometimes. You had to find ways to entertain yourself.
Thus, my interest in lighting design and programming developed.
One downside at Europa-Park was that we were so busy with our daily multitude of shows and events that there wasn’t much chance of the company being able to send us for any kind of courses, trainings, or qualifications.
Comparing to what I know now, I would say, there was a certain lack of structure and opportunities in the way our technical department was organized. We were always busy. So busy – and such is the nature of any theme park – that everything was always rushed.
But, it was up to us as well. To stay curious, to stay interested, and to stay keen to learn more.
The ice show became my baby. Lighting became my greatest passion.
Read more about Sacha Savenkoff’s journey to Technical Director in Part 2…