"Stickboy" Opera Opens in Vancouver to Take on Bullying Based on Poet's Life

By Smallbridge, Justin | The Canadian Press, October 30, 2014 | Go to article overview

"Stickboy" Opera Opens in Vancouver to Take on Bullying Based on Poet's Life


Smallbridge, Justin, The Canadian Press


New Vancouver opera tackles bullying

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VANCOUVER - Adolescence can be full of drama and cruelty. So can opera, making "Stickboy" an artistic expression of both.

The new work about school bullying opened to positive reviews in the city and will run until Nov. 7, with hopes of having the production tour high schools throughout British Columbia.

It tells the story of poet Shane Koyczan, who wrote the libretto based on his experience of being tormented and belittled at school before eventually becoming a bully himself.

Composer Neil Weisensel, who was commissioned by Vancouver Opera to write the score, said his job was to tell the story musically. He wrote the score in just seven months.

"I do write quickly," he said. "I moved everything else I was doing off to the side and concentrated on this. The libretto leant itself very easily to being set to music. I had three weeks to come up with the first act. Then I had another two months to come up with acts two and three."

He delivered the finished score, with orchestration and arrangements, on his Aug. 11 deadline.

Kids picked on Koyczan from the age of 10 when he lived in Yellowknife, N.W.T. By the time he had moved to Penticton, B.C., he was the bully. His grandmother, who raised him, is one of the few sympathetic characters in a harrowing story. The opera's title refers to an imaginary being made of sticks of dynamite, embodying the central character's rage.

"Stickboy" is a landmark undertaking in a couple of ways. Few opera companies commission new work, relying on proven crowd-drawing favourites for most of their repertoire. Its subject matter is also new. Both are aimed at getting new audiences for the art form.

"I had a friend fly in from Winnipeg who's a naturopathic doctor, kind of an everyday joe," Weisensel said. "He is my target audience -- somebody who's never been to theatre before. …

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