Stickboy, created and performed by the Vancouver Opera Company, is the work of visionaries. It combines animation with set design; a sharp, modern and powerful score; and a libretto that, more often than not, aims to emotionally suckerpunch the audience. Stickboy follows the true story of a boy, raised by his grandmother, who is brutally bullied at school. This catalyses the boy into a bully himself, and only after an intensely traumatizing period of self harm does he gain the insight that forces him to change his ways.
What Stickboy doesn’t illustrate, however, is that the boy went on to begin a life of artistry. Weaving words into tapestries to both entertain and educate, the boy gained international acclaim when he performed his spoken word poetry at the 2010 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies. That opportunity catapulted him into a performance career that has garnered admiration worldwide.
That boy’s name is Shane Koyczan.
I know, rockin’ neck beard right? I’m a little worried as to how I’m going to pull it off – because I am going to be becoming Mr. Koyczan for the Eminent Person Project in 2014!
I have been looking forward to the Eminent Project ever since last year’s ended. I was planning to a do a woman, you see – expressly for the purpose of breaking the frustrating dynamic of ‘no boys in TALONS have ever done a female Eminent Person.’ However, as soon as I realized I could do Koyczan, those lofty dreams fell out the window.
Shane Koyczan was the voice that drew me into slam poetry. I can remember long nights, burning the midnight oil, listening to scratchy Youtube recording’s of his work. I would be amazed at the way he wielded words like a scalpel with which to cut apart the listener’s preconceptions of tragedy. Never, had I thought that I would one day be trying to emulate that same art form.
A year or so after I discovered listening to poetry, I discovered writing slam poetry. Since then, it has been a roller coaster of performances, rapid growth and an expanding acceptance of what ‘art’ is. At my school, I am trying to give back that experience of poetry to my peers. It seems only fitting, that my Eminent should reflect the beginnings of this journey.
Koyczan was born in Yellowknife, 1976, but grew up in Penticton, British Columbia; his family moved there due to the awful bullying at his school. Little could they expect that the cycle would continue in Penticton, only this time with a cruel twist – Koyczan became the instigator that he had hated so very much in Yellowknife. In his grade 12 year, Koyczan began cutting, which he says was “because of the immense hatred I held for myself. I suffocated in it. Cutting was, it seemed to me, letting light into my body.”
In 1993, Koyczan was rushed to the hospital due to critical blood loss. The near death experience was the turning point in his life. This is where Koyczan left behind much of his anger, and began writing.
One of the fantastic things about Koyczan’s work is that he writes strictly about his own experiences. He disguises them in flowing, rythmic verse; and it makes every single one of his poems so much more poignant. He has been praised by critics for speaking to the issue “as if he had lived them,” which in turn brings about responses from his fans, explaining that he has, in fact, went through the things he writes about. His poetry is very real.
In 2005, Koyczan published his first book, which was selected by The Globe and Mail and The Guardian for their best book of the year lists. Following up that success, he performed the poem We are More at the 2010 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies, garnering him international acclaim. He is a rising star of the global sphere.
Koyczan’s eminence comes from his excellent poetry. His excellent poetry, in turn, is given a unique, sharp viewpoint due to his childhood. I will be studying his art, his story, and perhaps most importantly of all – his future.
In 2013, he created a video called To This Day with the animation company Giant Ant. To This Day is arguably his greatest success, going viral on Youtube with over 13.4 million views. It speaks to the bullies, the victims, the bystanders, and gives all of them hope for the future. The momentum this gave him allowed him to write and produce an Opera, known as Stickboy (refer to the beginning of the post).
Shane Koyczan has the eye of the world on him, and he seems to only be going bigger with each accomplishment.
“May the depth of your despair remain only in the shallow end.” – Shane Koyczan