The Artist in the Theater (And on YouTube)
Jun 25, 2020 09:35AM
By Virginia Kathryn Gallner
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Savannah Savick found her life's calling when she discovered she could combine visual art and theater for a living.
Savick’s decision to become an artist was a “stair-stepping process.” During college, she worked a series of odd jobs around town, including Sweet Magnolias Bakery and Artifact Bag Co., as well as volunteering with the exhibits departments at The Durham Museum and Omaha Children’s Museum. In summer 2016, she had the opportunity to work on Peter Pan with the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre as an intern, which served as her entry into the wild world of props design.
Upon graduating with her BFA in technical theater, she worked as prop master for Nebraska Shakespeare on their productions of King Lear and Merry Wives of Windsor. After that summer, she started working with Opera Omaha, where she built props for Falstaff, Faust, and Proving Up. One of her most challenging projects from that time period was creating a leopard for Faust. After asking her colleagues for ideas, she ended up building the leopard around a foam taxidermy core in the shape of a bobcat.
“Props is just like really crafty theater,” she said.
In June 2018, Savick started her position as a scenic painter at The Rose Theater. The collaborative environment at The Rose has helped her creativity soar both in and outside of work.
Master carpenter Jackson Curtright said they work closely to coordinate the set-building process in order to give her enough time to paint. The Rose brings in a number of outside designers to collaborate on sets. Adam Rowe, for example, is an Emmy Award-winning designer based in Los Angeles who has worked on television shows such as The Good Place, Dexter, and Parks and Recreation. He has also designed for The Rose, “trying to do a little vacation away from the hustle and bustle,” as Curtright describes.
One of the biggest challenges of working on a production team is following another designer’s vision. “Making your own thing is a lot easier than trying to recreate what someone else has done,” Curtright said. Savick does both.
Devon Denn-Young, props mistress, appreciates Savick’s attentiveness to community outreach and collaboration. “The Rose has a skeleton crew for a production staff…[so we] make sure that we are supporting one another.” Of all the people Denn-Young has worked with in the world of theater, she says that Savick is among the kindest. “She drops off little notes and gifts, randomly, for no reason.”
The 2020-2021 season was due to start in September and feature the production of Corduroy, which was filmed and shared as a time-lapse video on The Rose’s social media platforms. Savick was most excited about Up and Away, a low-sensory show designed for individuals who are on the autism spectrum. Together with the production team, she was creating a world where audience members took an elevator up to the Hitchcock Theater, riding a hot air balloon into the sky. At presstime, The Rose was changing its season offerings due to COVID-19 and the resulting social-distancing guidelines.
She finds the camaraderie at The Rose empowering. She still has energy at the end of the day to go home and work on her own projects.
In quarantine, Savick found solace in art. She returned to her first love, illustration, when she began self-isolation. Her latest major project was a Freddie Mercury calendar—with cats. Each month depicts the rock star with his cats, and the calendar itself features many feline-themed holidays.
In addition to creating time-lapse videos of her scenic painting for The Rose Theater’s YouTube channel, Savick was inspired to create similar content for her illustration projects.
“It’s very Bob Ross, very chill,” she said, describing the videos. Some take place in real time, while others are narrations over a time-lapse.
Music serves an important inspirational role for Savick. Her wife, Haley Clark, works at Homer’s Music in downtown Omaha, so they enjoy listening to records together at home. One of her favorite projects was illustrating a Panic! At The Disco song as a picture book. She has created live paintings at local concerts and events.
Many of her illustrations are driven by food. She painted a picture of their cat, Thea, as a whimsical watercolor cinnamon roll. Another surreal piece, featured on her Instagram, depicts an astronaut walking their dog, Poppy, across a desolate planet.
Savick also collaborates with artists outside of work. She and one of her closest friends, Carley Kleffner, started the artist booth and shop Captain and Sailor's Nautical Oddities on Etsy. Together, they host booths at events such as Benson First Friday Artist Market.
Kleffner has found the Benson artist community very welcoming. Everyone goes the extra mile to take care of each other, from the organizers to the artists to the customers themselves. “Benson feels like such a special neighborhood in Omaha, because they really embrace diversity and weirdness,” she said. It is a gathering place of many different minds and mediums.
“I met Savannah in sixth grade, and we bonded over our mutual love of art,” Kleffner said. “As kids, whenever we got together, we were either drawing or making cardboard castles or baking. Crafting and making things helped my mind feel lighter and gave me a sense of self-worth.”
That same sense of playfulness and wonder still characterizes Savick’s art. Her work has been displayed around town at Daisy Jones' Locker in Benson, Legends Comics & Coffee on Leavenworth Street, and recently, in a virtual art gallery at the Apollon Art Space on Vinton Street.
Follow Savick on Instagram: @sharpsavick
This article first appeared in the July/August 2020 edition of 60PLUS in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.