Poet meets Symphony at Cleland Theatre

Penticton poet Shane Koyczan will be performing a special concert with the Okanagan Symphony in Cleland Theatre next week.   - Western News file photo
Penticton poet Shane Koyczan will be performing a special concert with the Okanagan Symphony in Cleland Theatre next week.
— image credit: Western News file photo

It’s no small promises they are making for an upcoming concert featuring the Okanagan Symphony performing with Penticton poet, writer and performer Shane Koyczan.

“Join the exchange as words and music bounce off each other forming and reshaping, examining and probing the world of imaginative possibilities,” reads the release announcing the March 8 concert.

“It something that is on my list of things I always wanted to do,” said Koyczan. “I have performed with my own band, Short Story Long, quite a bit, but I thought it would be really amazing to have a full orchestra at some point in my career.”

Koyczan isn’t sure how this dream came about, saying it just “magically” came together.

“It’s incredible, the universe kind of provided,” he said. “I guess Rosemary (Thomson) from the OSO had seen me perform and reached out. It seemed like a home-run to me.”

Many people will be familiar with Koyczan through his stunning performance of his poem We Are More at the 2010 Olympics, or more recently through his video To This Day, which portrays one of his poems about bullying and currently has nearly 12.5 million hits on YouTube.

“It’s pretty amazing, the level of fan support that I have. It keeps me doing this,” said Koyczan, who began his career in 2000, when he faked an injury to get out of work so he could attend a poetry competition.

He won, but when he was asked if  he was ready to come back to work, decided this was the time.

“I just thought, I am going to give this a year. Because this is what I really love and when else am I ever going to get a chance to do this? I am young, I am stupid, I believe I can make a living doing poetry,” joked Koyczan, who still finds his success a little unreal.  “There is a part of me that keeps waiting, asking when am I going to have to pick up a spatula again.”

The symphony concert will feature both classic pieces and new works from Koyczan.

“I am really looking forward to busting out some new material. I have just been so busy working on the opera, I haven’t had a chance to do any of the new stuff, so this is going to be pretty exciting for me,” he said.

The opera Koyczan references is an upcoming production of his book, Stickboy, which also deals very personally with the subject of bullying.

“I just finished writing the libretto, so I guess I can add librettist to the list of things I have done,” he said, adding that the Vancouver Opera  has been very good to work with.

“They are really respectful of the material. Because they realize this book, it’s not just words, it’s pages out of my life,” said Koyczan. Like Stickboy, To This Day is an intensely personal work, which Koyczan was surprised spread so far and so fast.

“I didn’t put it out with the intent of making a viral video. It was just to reach people that hopefully needed it,” said Koyczan. “I was pretty surprised, but more really happy that it got to the people who needed it.”

An upcoming video, Troll, is a followup for To This Day and is being funded by a $7,500 grant Koyczan was awarded through the Public Records Winter Music Video Fund.

Koyczan said that after To This Day was released, he got a lot of letters from people asking why he didn’t address the cyber aspect of bullying. But the Internet and social media were not major forces while Koyczan was growing up.

“Home was still a haven for me, but these letters were just soul crushing, so I thought okay, I will write something along those lines,” said Koyczan. Troll, in this case, refers to Internet trolls.

“You put things out into the world and, for the most part, people will think this is beautiful,” he said. “But there are always those that want to crush and maim and destroy beautiful things.”

Koyczan joins the OSO on March 8 at  7:30 p.m. in the Cleland Theatre, with music director Rosemary Thomson hosting a pre-concert talk one hour prior to the performance. Tickets are available from the Penticton & Wine Country Information Centre or call 250-276-2170 or 1-800-663-5052.

But it might be a while before that video is complete. Before he can start work on the production, Koyczan needs to finish up a few of the things he’s already got going.

“I am hoping after I am done with the OSO, I can really put some time to focus in on that,” he said, adding that he hopes to start work on the video later in March, with a a finish date possibly in the summer.


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