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When Covid-19 hit, much of the world was forced to shut down, a move that placed immense pressure on parents, teachers and students, who were forced to adapt as their living rooms were transformed into classrooms. With millions of parents stepping into the role of a teacher, and physical classrooms being replaced by digital platforms almost overnight, educational institutions had no choice but to innovate.
Though there’s no denying that everyone involved faced profound challenges in adapting to the new restrictions, some leaders, such as Canadian producer Calvin Mitchell, were able to use these unique circumstances to help create something new and supportive in the educational sphere.
Since 2014 Mitchell has been an avid supporter and lead executive producer for the charity organisation WE Day, which aims to educate and inspire students, and is best known for its arena-packed specialty events.
When the pandemic restrained large events from operating, Mitchell made the most of the opportunity and rendered an innovative plan to connect to students on a whole new level, resulting in a much greater impact than anyone could have imagined.
Understanding that people require stimulation to support learning online, WE Day established the WE Schools Live program to offer students a refreshing break from their daily home-school routine.
“During COVID it’s been really hard to connect with people, and especially for students,” says Mitchell. “So this show was able to serve as a one hour break during the day that students could tune into and learn something different, be surprised by some of their favourite celebrities and more.”
Known for his track record of persevering through challenges with an optimistic outlook, several directors came to Mitchell for leadership when the pandemic turned everything upside down. Over the years he’s produced nearly 80 stadium events for WE Day, hundreds of fashion shows across the globe, the popular YouTube series “One Second of One Day” from American songwriter Gunnar Gehl, which raises awareness for mental health, and more.
“As a producer, your end goal is to deliver a memorable experience for the audience. How you get there is different for every show you work on,” he shares. “You have to wear multiple hats as you are charged with developing productions from ideation to completion.”
Standing firm in his dedication to imbue the virtual WE Schools Live program with the same power and engagement that he brought to the physical WE Day events that he produced over the years, Mitchell hit the ground running, adapting to new methods of producing from his own home.
Much like the 80 or so live arena shows that he produced, the virtual episodes featured many celebrity guest appearances, including award-winning storyteller Jay Shetty, two-time Golden Globe nominee Lily Collins and MTV’s VMA award winner Joe Jonas.
“At first I was hesitant about the transition to virtual events, as I’m someone who really feeds off the excitement of a live audience, however I quickly found enjoyment in the benefits of this format,” Mitchell admits. “The biggest one being with virtual, you instantly have a much broader audience opportunity especially when it comes to attracting a global viewership”
Adjusting to remote working came naturally to Mitchell, who was responsible for developing the entire concept and episode scripts, while booking guest speakers and coordinating with all of the different teams involved.
Thankfully for the millions of students across the globe who participated, Mitchell’s seasoned technical expertise came in handy when it came to managing the entire live online streaming platform, because without it, the show would not have been possible.
Bridging the gap between millions who were feeling disconnected due to the arduous effects of the pandemic, the virtual programs were a raging success that brought motivation, inspiration and connection to the world of education.
Mitchell adds, “I think it was able to bring a little fun into an online school day! I tried really hard to make the show interactive with fun activities and challenges.”
A fundamental element behind Mitchell’s success as a producer has been his ability to develop specialty content, with each new project showcasing his brilliant mind and artistic flair for generating authentic material over and over again.
In support of the 2020 graduates, who undoubtedly had one of their most challenging school years ever, he formulated a brilliant idea, which would honour the students in a whole new light.
He says, “I pitched and developed a national broadcast special called WE Celebrate Class of 2020 to honour the students graduating who would be missing out on their end of the school year in person graduations.”
The hour long prime time special aired on Canada’s leading network, CTV, and included an impressive line up of international performers such as Grammy Award winning artists Meghan Trainor and Alessia Cara, and nominated musicians Shawn Mendes, JP Saxe and Julia Michaels.
Given that the concept was a first for many involved, Mitchell’s tried and true leadership skills were put to the test in order to pull the entire event together in record time, all while working remotely to abide by the pandemic restrictions.
“Every step of the way, making sure safety was the top priority. We also came up with this idea and very quickly had to turn around a show from initial concept to air date,” he says. “We had six weeks, usually you’d have six months. The great thing about being in a challenging time like this is it pushes you to think outside the book!”
Never one to shy away from a challenge, he even managed to pull off WE Day’s famous shock factor by surprising a group of valedictorians with a private zoom meeting with award-winning global sensation Selena Gomez.
His brilliant concept was an obvious highlight for many graduating students from all over the world, helping to wrap up an incredibly challenging year by ending on a much lighter note.
He shares, “I was personally really proud to serve as an executive producer on such an important project during a difficult time. It gave me a really great sense of purpose.”
As a producer, Mitchell’s ability to adapt to various projects and delegate across multiple departments at one time, plus his creative ability to take the concept of a show and transform it into a monumental masterpiece, have led him to earn extensive recognition.
Through his solid reputation as a cornerstone producer for WE Day, he was a part of a team recruited by the Canadian Government to host WE Day Canada back in 2017. The massive celebration was in honor of the nation’s 150th anniversary, which was held at the renowned Parliament Hill establishment for a live audience of 300,000.
Mitchell produced the monumental event, creating a six hour variety show along with his team that highlighted the future of Canada and featured Grammy award-winning artists Shania Twain and Nelly Furtado, as well as the late Gord Downie from the classic rock band Tragically Hip.
“We were asked to put on a show that showcased the future of Canada,” he says. “In the months of planning we worked on identifying the key issues and topics that mattered most to Canadians and we used those topics as the building blocks of the show.”
Fusing his profound expertise in storytelling with a meticulous attention to detail, he helped deliver a powerful show that brilliantly commemorated the nation and marked a historic moment for all Canadians.
He says, “When it comes to executing a live show, I’m very good at keeping the show on track and when we start to go over in time, I’m very good at finding ways to get us back on track.”
But again, it was Mitchell’s pure love for his work and dedication for going the extra mile that touched the hearts of millions around the world, including the iconic Gord Downie who, at the time had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and sadly passed away not long after the paramount event.
“I had the honour to work with him [Downie] in that final year. At that show we surprised him onstage with a performance from a 100 person youth choir singing one of his favourite songs,” Mitchell shares.
“The moment brought him and the audience to tears, made the cover of the national newspaper and was one of his last public appearances. It was a great honor to produce that moment and something I will cherish.”
Whether they take place live in person or in the virtual world, Calvin Mitchell has a remarkable capacity to produce flawless events. This, along with his kind-hearted approach to leading his team to success, and knowing what will keep the audience engaged, have led him to earn wide recognition by prominent industry leaders.
“Mitchell is tirelessly dedicated to producing the highest quality of work and demands only the best from his team while ensuring he is always mentoring and developing those who work for him,” shares WE Day’s Chief Operations Director Natalie Burri.
“He is uniquely gifted with the ability to think both creatively and technically, developing a vision with the understanding of how to bring it to life, on time and on budget.”
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
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