For some, it’s a tired slogan heard time and time again from middle-school guidance counsellors and after-school specials. For others, it’s a cliché complaint from a badgering wife or girlfriend. And for a select group of super-fans, it’s just a 1980s Madonna classic.
But for Shane Koyczan, it’s a way of life, one that he has shared with thousands of people across the world.
“One of the things I really love about my work is that people connect to it; there’s [just] something about that level of human interaction . . . where we’re able to be empathetic,” said the award-winning Canadian poet, author and performer who has presented his work everywhere from TED Talks to the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He also won both the U.S. Slam Poetry Championship and the Canadian Spoken Word Olympics.
“We live in a world that’s constantly trying to put our emotional selves on hold . . . [but] we are emotional creatures, and that’s what connects us.”
The spoken-word virtuoso should know. Since he first made his mark – when his influential anti-bullying video, the To This Day project, went viral in early 2013 – Koyczan has been dazzling audiences around the globe with his furious, political, tragic and side-splitting spoken-word performances.
“When I do shows, I like to bring people through the full range of emotion,” said Koyczan. “I have a skeleton idea of what I’m going to do [in a show] but I don’t close myself off . . . [since] a lot of the times the audience will tell me where they want to go. It’s reciprocal; I think that’s what an emotional experience is.”
Koyczan’s prowess for invoking profound emotion, enlightenment and empathy out of his audiences is a skill he claims to have learned from some of the Canadian greats. The result? A “jambalaya” of exploration and expression.
“A lot of people say that as a writer, you have to find your voice. And I think what happens is your voice ends up being different parts of voices that you really love, and then that becomes your style or your voice. That’s what happened for me,” said Koyczan.
“I’m still tremendously influenced by a lot of Canadians; Al Purdy, Tom Wayman, Leonard Cohen . . . that’s where I come from. I’ve just adopted pieces of people’s voices that I really like, and I think that’s what it really comes down to.”
Koyczan compared what goes down once he hits the stage to “a good stew; something that’s made of a lot of different voices and experiences.”
But Koyczan’s literary concoction wouldn’t be complete without one key ingredient. When it comes to maintaining that same level of passion and conviction that he so fluently exudes at each and every performance, Koyczan said it must be a concentrated effort.
“I just want to write something honest and I want to perform it honestly. A lot of the time that means stepping back into a place of remembrance . . . to moments that I don’t necessarily care to revisit. If I’m going to talk about it, I have to remember certain things and certain feelings,” he said.
“Before I start any piece, my rule is to take a second, remember where I was when I wrote this and why this is still true. And then perform it.”
And while even he is not entirely sure what will come out during one of his performances, Frederictonians can certainly expect to be wowed – and maybe even get in touch with their own feelings – when he takes the stage at the Fredericton Playhouse on Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m.
“Everybody wants that experience. Everybody wants that return to [humanity], to touch that part of themselves that lets them feel again. Some people lose it; it’s almost beaten out of you. But it’s important to me,” said Koyczan, himself a sufferer of depression who calls his mental health journey a “long, long climb back to what many would consider normal.”
“The reason I was able to get through that [depression] was the realization that these things that I’m keeping at bay, these feelings that I’m just trying not to feel, just need to be let out. There’s no cork in the bottle here.”
Tickets for Koyczan’s Fredericton performance can be purchased through the Fredericton Playhouse box office at 1-866-884-5800, or online at Theplayhouse.ca.