Shane Koyczan has a way with words.
Since stepping onto the world stage at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics with his spoken-word homage to Canada, “We are More,” Koyczan has become a household name and a national treasure, inspiring Canadian pride and sparking an interest in spoken-word performance.
Now he’s bringing his show, When I Was a Kid to Victoria’s Belfry Theatre as part of the fourth annual Spark Fest.
When I Was a Kid takes a look at some of the darker times in Koyczan’s life — his childhood.
“I didn’t want to revisit my childhood at all,” says Koyczan. “I’d come from places, you know being bullied and what not, so I spent this last half of my life avoiding my childhood because I thought there was nothing good there.”
When his grandmother gave him some of his childhood journals a few years ago, he was inspired to turn the material into a show, which he mounted for the first time last April at The Cultch in Vancouver. It was there that Belfry Theatre artistic director Michael Shamata became interested in the work and decided to invite him to present at Spark.
“When I was going through and reading the books, it made me remember things that were fun and light and beautiful about my childhood and made me realize that I had thrown the baby out with the bathwater,” says Koyczan. “Why was I ignoring this huge chapter in my life just because there were a lot of bad moments, when there were a lot of moments that shined bright in those dark places?”
When I was a Kid takes a look at chapters of Koyczan’s youth, from monsters under the bed and first crushes to advice from parents and problems with bullying. He’s accompanied by his band, The Short Story Long (Maiya Robbie, Jesse Lee, Olivia Mennell and Jordie Robinson), with which he is about to release a new “talk rock” album — their first in just over four years.
“I tour a lot, I’m constantly on the road and that makes it difficult to rehearse with the band,” says Koyczan. “The reason why we waited so long to record another album is we wanted a chance to develop the sound a bit more and I think people will really hear that on this album, it’s definitely the most mature offering to date.”
The new album, Remembrance Year, is being released on March 16, so Victoria audiences will be able to purchase it after the show. Hardcopies are only available at live performances and include two special tracks that aren’t available on the digital download.
Koyczan says he’s excited to hear reaction to the new album and says he’s hopeful that it will help make headway for spoken word artists in general.
“Maybe this will open a spoken word category in the Junos,” says Koyczan. “Spoken word never really gets recognized, even at the Grammy’s it always goes to books on tape.”
“I don’t think spoken word has been recognized as an art form. When people say spoken word, they think of comedians or people reading books on tape, whereas there really is an artform of spoken word poetry or even storytelling that are deserving of a spoken word album. There’s tons out there, but it never really gets recognized.”
Koyczan’s third book, Our Deathbeds will be Thirsty, will be released next month in Vancouver and he’s currently doing some writing for the upcoming Mad Max animated movie sequel.
“If you’re going to be a writer for a living, you really have to work it. Poetry doesn’t sell like Stephen King,” says Koyczan.
“Basically mounting the show is like inviting people into a museum of me and there are all these things under the display cases that they can look at and interact with and I’m really just acting as a curator, saying ‘Here’s my childhood,’ and so mind your step in this place.” M
When I Was Kid
By Shane Koyczan and The Short Story Long
Wed, March 21 to Sat., March 24 at 8 pm
Tickets $20 adult/ $15 post secondary/$10 High school students
250-385-6815 or belfry.bc.ca/tickets