Spotlight on Savannah LeCornu: WWU alumna, Production Manager, Lighting Designer, Indigenous Visual Artist
Savannah LeCornu, WWU alumna, ’14, brings multiple talents to Western and the surrounding community. She keeps a busy schedule holding three occupations:
- Production Manager for Western’s Department of Theatre & Dance
- Lighting Designer/Manager for Mount Baker Theatre
- Independent Indigenous Visual Artist
At Western, Savannah's art has represented WWU Theatre productions. She also has a painting on display in Parks Hall: "Still Here" The WWU Variant. You should definitely go see it if you’re on campus!
In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, I sat down with Savannah to learn more about her job, her art, and her perspective of WWU. I enjoyed our conversation so much I nearly made her late for her next meeting – sorry, Savannah, I hope your meeting went well!
What was your time like at Western as a student?
I completed one year of community college in Vancouver, Washington before applying to other schools. I then got accepted to both Western Washington University and University of Washington. My financial situation did play a part in my decision but honestly there was just something in my gut that told me Western would be the right choice. I’m glad I did [go to Western], because I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunities I did or made the connections I made otherwise.
My time here was kind of a blur. I worked full time while going to school here, first at Sears and then as a bartender at Nooksack Northwood Casino up by the border. I would go to class and then be at work until 2am. I didn’t know anyone here, didn’t have family here, and worked a lot because I didn’t have a backup plan if I couldn’t afford things.
When I transferred none of my credits counted as GUR’s so it was kind of like starting all over. I spent my first year getting GUR’s out of the way which caused issues for my scholarships. I was told I wasn’t “working towards a major” so they weren’t going to sign off on my scholarships. When I sought out a transfer advisor I somehow ended up in the Anthropology department. Luckily that advisor was very understanding of my stress and signed all my forms so that I could keep my scholarships and continue my GUR classes. I then declared right away.
I only spent two years in the Theatre department so it felt rushed and condensed. I also started getting opportunities to work on shows right away so everything got busier and busier. Honestly if I were to do it over I would have taken out loans so that I could have worked less and focused more on school. I did well and had a lot of opportunities but felt like I missed out on community.
Despite that I did make a few strong connections and certain classes helped me figure out what I wanted to do. I went to Western knowing I wanted to work in theatre but not knowing what I wanted beyond that. Some of those early tech classes got me interested in lighting design so I signed up to design a show as soon as possible. I actually ended up designing lights for a mainstage musical (The Baker’s Wife) before I was able to take the lighting classes.
Professors and staff here now were my professors then. Some of them are still here but not teaching classes anymore. Some of these folks saw things in me that I didn’t see at the time. Kamarie’s playwriting class got me writing, something I never expected, and my first play made it to KCACTF (Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival). Beth was also very supportive and pushed me along into opportunities. I’m still not sure what she saw in me to offer me the Production Manager role for that first year of summer theatre. I didn’t have a lot of experience in that area but I knew I wasn’t going to say no to Beth Leonard, and here I am now still the Production Manager. Dipu was another mentor and recommended me for a lot of lighting design gigs after school, including my first professional design here at Western (back before I had a permanent position). I owe a lot to these folks.
It’s interesting to be working with everyone now. They went from professors to colleagues/friends which was not something I would have ever expected when I first came here. It’s also weird to have worked here as long as I have. When I started there were still students here that were students with me. Now its been 8 years since I graduated and it’s been an interesting shift to not having that student-student relationship anymore.
Something in my gut that told me Western would be the right choice. I’m glad I did [go to Western], because I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunities I did or made the connections I made otherwise.
Professors and staff here now were my professors then...Some of these folks saw things in me that I didn’t see at the time.
When I was in school my professors here were the ones to tell me I could make a career out of this. That was the first time I had adults say that, and I found it to be totally true.
What do you do in your jobs?
Department of Theatre & Dance, College of Fine and Performing Arts, Western Washington University
Make calendars for the season, set room reservations, oversee technical aspects; make sure auditions, crew, and production team are all there, and making sure every production has everything they need. I help in areas that need support and fill work gaps when we don’t have someone in that role. I also design lighting for our productions sometimes.
I started with Western Summer Theatre – overseeing all the productions in the summer. I did that for 5 years. About three years ago when the Technical Director left, he suggested making the Production Manager position permanent and having that position around during the school year. In the past, the Technical Director did all this work, and it was too much for one position.
House Lead - Lighting & Rigging
Mount Baker Theatre
Lighting Design for local shows and tours that don’t have a lighting designer, Master Electrician work, loading in/out and running productions. Making sure the show has everything they need and has a successful day at the theatre.
This is Savannah’s main focus. She creates indigenous art based on her own multi-tribal background: Tsimshian, Haida and Nimiipuu (Nez Perce). Her work reflects both coastal and plains art styles. “I do it to help preserve styles, to center indigenous peoples and to celebrate them. I want to create diverse art that anyone can have as well as art that is special to my indigenous relatives”.
Savannah has an Etsy store and a Patreon. She sells prints at affordable prices – mostly $20 or less – because she believes art should be accessible to everyone. As someone who has been financially unstable and comes from a historically low income community, this has always been important to her.
I’ve been creating and selling art prints for a few years and now that I’m a little more established I am trying to broaden my goals. I want to take up space in places that have historically focused on centering white cis men. Recently I created a painting for the College of Business and Economics in Parks Hall. Previously, all the art in that building was by the same person and now there is a painting by an indigenous person celebrating indigenous peoples and how we are still here. I was also accepted into my first residency this year at Ucross Foundation in Wyoming as their Spring Native American Fellow for Visual Arts. I spent my time creating paintings that will eventually be on display there sometime in 2024. My goal is create work that ends up in places that never made room for people like me.
Savannah kneals beside her painting "Still Here", The WWU Variant. This painting is now on display in the lobby of Parks Hall on campus.
View Savannah's art used for past WWU Theatre productions
A new play reading series
Western Summer Theatre production by WWU On The Intersection Company
Western Summer Theatre production by WWU On The Intersection Company
How do you split your time?
Mount Baker Theatre and WWU are both half time jobs that feel like full time jobs. They have busy times at the same time, and they are both jobs where the work comes home with me. Luckily a lot of my production management work can be done remotely which helps.
With art I got good at packing it with me. I create digitally on an ipad often because it’s easy to travel with and I can still draw in dark rooms. If I’m working with traditional mediums I bring pens and supplies that can travel. I also create beadwork and have found ways to pack that up to take on the go. I’ve gotten better with being realistic with what I can do in a day. I’ve adjusted my sales practices and how much I create in a month to be a little easier on my busier schedule. My wife helped me with some of those realizations because she’s a very smart person and has seen me get burnt out.
Do you like your jobs?
I’ve been asked that a lot lately. Ultimately I do. I enjoy aspects of both jobs (at WWU and Mt Baker Theatre). Both jobs are similar in the work that is done, but have very different energies. Here (at WWU) I work with people younger than me who are often still learning, and I work with them on shows with a really long production process. At Mt Baker Theatre it’s kind of the opposite, I work with folks who are older than me and it’s touring shows and one-offs so it’s fast paced. You load in, do the show, and tear down all in one day. Both have their own struggles. Here I have to remember to switch gears to an educational setting. When you’re with people who are learning you can’t always just give direction. I have to explain things more thoroughly and often have to do more myself. It’s not bad, just different. At Mt Baker I’m working with more experienced people so I can hand jobs off and know it will be done. But, then I deal with people who aren’t always welcoming to a younger femme person. They assume because I’m younger that I don’t know as much, or because I’m femme I can’t perform more physical tasks. Or that I couldn’t possibly be the one in charge. Some of that is going away but it was pretty bad when I first started.
There’s a lot of tough things about Theatre. It’s both physically and mentally demanding. There are times where I’m like “ah man, I would just like to be done,” but then there are always times when you’re doing something that reminds you why you got into this in the first place. For example I worked on and designed lighting for the production Men On Boats last Spring. This was a show where I was excited about the script, to work with the Director (I hadn’t worked with Rich before), and to be involved with a very collaborative group. It was so nice to collaborate with the design team and to work on something we were all excited about. When you’re sharing an idea with a Director and they’re super stoked to do it, it reminds you of all your favorite parts of theatre. Rich is just also a really great Director to design for.
Eventually I would like to move away from theatre and focus solely on visual arts. It just took this long to realize that might be an option. Many adults in my life told me Theatre wasn’t realistic, that I should have a second major because I wouldn't be able to make a living in Theatre. Because of this I assumed I’d always have a day job, and I never considered visual arts to even be an option. None of that is true though. Theatre is a completely viable career choice. When I was in school my professors here were the ones to tell me I could make a career out of this. That was the first time I had adults say that, and I found it to be totally true. Theatre is how I make a living and I’m not a “starving artist.” Now that my art is growing, it’s starting to feel like someday I can just do that. It doesn’t feel so unrealistic now.
I do it to help preserve styles, to center indigenous peoples and to celebrate them. I want to create diverse art that anyone can have as well as art that is special to my indigenous relatives...My goal is create work that ends up in places that never made room for people like me.
on her work as a visual artist
Tell me about your indigenous background
I am Tsimshian (Wolf clan), Haida and Nimiipuu (Nez Perce). I am also Athabascan and Nisga’a but am not quite as connected to those roots - I’m still learning more about them. I was born in Ketchikan, Alaska, but we moved south when I was in third grade. We moved around a lot, going back to Ketchikan from time to time, until I started high school. My parents split up when I was pretty young, and we learned from my dad and his side of the family. My family has treaty fishing rights on the Columbia River so we’d spend summers helping out there. We’d attend Chief Joseph Days in Wallowa, we travelled to pow wows and took nez perce language classes on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. And I bead and create art.
In terms of art and beadwork I’m self taught. There are a lot of singers, dancers, artists and beadwork artists on both sides of my family and they all inspired me to start trying and learning these things when I was young. Drawing, especially form line, became my main focus and has always been a thing that I do. Art and beadwork are a way for me to stay involved and connected.
How does your background contribute to your work?
I realized as I asked this question that it’s a difficult question to answer regarding her work as a Production Manager and Lighting Designer. Savannah agreed.
I guess that’s hard to quantify, but by being an indigenous person I think I bring a unique perspective. I don’t think a lot of people at my workplaces knew I was indigenous for a while because I don’t fit the look that people often have in their heads. When thinking of people of color in a group, I wasn’t always considered. That has since changed, which is good. I think it helps to have different, diverse voices in the room always.
It definitely contributes to my writing. For Summer Theatre in 2021 the company wrote a play together and my background was one of the story lines. It also contributes to my art, of course, which sometimes contributes to my work. I’ve created art for productions and now for one of the other colleges. Everyone here knows me as an artist, and even owns some of my work, so I imagine it will continue to play a role.
"Still Here" WWU Variant
by Savannah LeCornu
on display in the Parks Hall lobby
Find more of Savannah's art
She sells prints at affordable prices – mostly $20 or less
- Visit her Etsy store
- Become a patron on Patreon
- Find works of hers at local places like MW Soapworks and Bloodhoney Tattoo