A night to be human
A review of Shane Koyczan – All Saints Church, York – 11/5/2017
The church, expectant and glowing, welcomed York’s Say Owt selected poets. As warm up acts go, I’m not sure many spoken word artists would have wanted to follow them. Blitzing from the T-Rex to Tabasco, the Say Owt lot are without doubt reaching wizard level in spoken word.
Stu Freestone, a York-based nationally recognised performer, gave it both barrels in a bizarre and hilarious confession of condiment addiction. His second piece was the polar opposite as he confessed to the struggle of knowing that his childhood fear of fake monsters was incomparable to the real monsters that many children run from daily. The level of excellence was maintained to the last words of the support acts.
The world renowned Mr Shane Koyczan took the stage as the sun dropped behind the stained glass. I say ‘took’ as if there was effort involved. There wasn’t. The way he held himself was enough to captivate a hall full of humans and every church mouse beneath the pews. It’s a strange thing to see such a content soul blatantly admit to “Not doing too well socially”. Instantly he became more than a performer to the crowd. In admitting so early on to imperfections, he became someone we could trust to be honest with us; to be human.
The explanation of his work was as fascinating as the work itself. From his upbringing in Yellowknife, Canada, with his grandparents, to the tragedies of mourning the deaths of loved ones, each piece painted a wonderful picture of a man who is humble enough to admit to hurting, genius enough to captivate readers with his writing, and gritty enough to wow a room packed full of strangers with his speaking. This was, without doubt, the evolution of creative expression where the etched and the explained collided in flawless harmony.
He talked about how to be human. He walked us through his experiences of growing up without a mother or father and the influence of his beloved grandparents on his life. His ability to explore the heaviest of human experiences without an ounce of forced intensity or preachiness, was enticing and hypnotic. He spoke beautifully about being humiliated, and confidently about being terrified.
It was a night where the artist reminded us that it’s ok not to have a clue about things. Covering philosophy, patriarchy and puberty, the poems were unpredictable, unforced and unalike. As hilarious as he was humbling, he highlighted the lowlights of the human experience. In doing so he left us all a little more illuminated and a little less afraid.
Mr Koyczan left the stage and meandered through a standing ovation. A man in his twenties with a hairstyle and dress sense far cooler than anything I could achieve, leant forward sheepishly to the artist.
“Thank you” he mouthed in the deafening applause.
He summed up what we were all feeling – thankful for the experience. In the ten years I have been reviewing live performance, I’m not sure I’ve ever been as thankful to have been in that venue on that night.
As an artist, the world stage needs Mr Koyczan right now. But I’d have to go one further than that. As an observer of the human experiences, brimming with empathy and passion, it is indeed the world that needs Mr Koyczan right now. The way he sees humanity is a way that relates to humans, and my goodness do we need humans like that right now.