Savanna Harvey

Savanna Harvey

An interest in technology creates opportunity during a global pandemic

Back in the spring of 2020, many arts organizations had to shift from in-person audiences to some form of streaming — a task that was undoubtedly daunting and complex for first-timers. Fortunately for self-proclaimed theatre nerd Savanna Harvey, who had already dabbled in live-streaming as far back as 2016, the jump to digital performance was not only an easier shift to make, but it also turned into a skillset that allowed her to help many arts organizations in Calgary make that transition and continue to reach audiences during the height of social distancing. In fact, she became a behind-the-scenes arts hero.

Starting out as a creative writer, Harvey discovered drama in high school and the impact that the two genres had when combined — the ability to take her writing and bring it into the real world. From there she kept digging further and further into it. 

“I loved… how it was just inherently multi-disciplinary with lighting, and sound and costuming, set design stuff. I just loved how I could explore all of those different branches,” she says. “In university, I started to become exposed to more of just the breadth of what theatre performance looks like. And so myself and a couple other students went down the rabbit hole of intermedial performance.”

Creative Performer

Harvey’s interest in all aspects of theatre and how all the moving parts work together led her to further evolve her craft. In trying to figure out how writing and production work in tandem, she discovered that she was becoming a new type of artist — a creator-performer. As a creator-performer, she says, “you’re typically seeing a lot of solo shows or like duos that are in some ways like collective creation or devised theatre pieces, and that’s mostly because of capacity. It’s it is also a really rich practice because you get to do everything and learn everything.

“I would just pursue my curiosity and I …trusted that my interests would make sense eventually, you know? And that brings us to the pandemic.”

It wasn’t long after in-person events were put on hold back in 2020 that Harvey, who was producing Sage Theatre’s IGNITE! Festival at the time, and her team needed to figure out how to get an entire festival to audiences. Luckily they were able to put their knowledge of streaming to work and after sending out a call to videographers, assembled a crack team that rose to the challenge and presented the festival in its new, reimagined medium. Looking back, Harvey is proud of how it all came together. “Between being able to capture a high-quality digital translation of these works on the video end of things, and then to be able to get them out through the streaming and the technical aspects that way we have… it was really exciting and a little bit bonkers.”

It wasn’t only other artists’ work that Harvey had been working on during the pandemic — she is first and foremost an artist herself and had her own production to figure out. Wastelands, a climate action interactive performance piece, was slated to be performed live and in-person at the Festival of Animated Objects in 2022. “We were really excited about leaning into alternative theatre practices — so things like puppetry and clown and immersive performance, installation, that sort of thing — and finding those branches of theatre that are really physical in order to help tell our brains that [the waste and climate crises are] a real thing,” she says.

“It was a very large-scale project, but when we got to the point where we were ready to stage it, COVID was still a risk, and particularly more so in our production and rehearsal phase.”

They had decided to go digital early on in order to ensure that they would still be able to have an audience in some capacity. So, shifting from an interactive production, she and her co-creator, Lindsey Zess, turned Wastelands into a piece of digital theatre and made it happen.

Although performances have returned to the stage and audiences are back in seats, there is now, for many arts organizations, an element of digital production and streaming that remains part of the audience experience. And having played a key role in creating this new digital reality for Calgary audiences, Savanna Harvey is now shifting her focus. “I’ve been doing so much producing, which has been fun and extremely educational, but it was ultimately something that I got into as a way to support my own work. The combination of technology and performance and doing research and innovation about how those things come together, that’s what I’m really focused on.”

Harvey’s next creative project is Cypher, a mash-up of immersive theatre and AR video gaming (like Pokémon Go) where audiences join a rebel cell and embark on real-world missions against a technocratic regime ruled by Big Tech. Harvey is developing her own virtual production software, specifically for live events, that will drive the Cypher experience and others like it. The new platform is being designed specifically for live performance. It will have user-friendly tools so artists can incorporate and play with interactive technologies – without getting overwhelmed. Cypher, and Harvey’s new virtual production platform, should start making some sneak peeks in the fall of 2023. You can follow Harvey’s Instagram and website for updates:

About the Storytelling Project

The Storytelling Project raises awareness about Calgarians who, by living creative lives, are making Calgary a better city, effecting positive change and enriching others’ lives.

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