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Tell it like it is

Spoken word auteur Shane Koyczan on verbal vulnerability

Spoken word artist Shane Koyczan comes to the Lorton Performance Center in Tulsa on Oct. 9.

Courtesy of Fleming Artists, Inc.

From the days of ancient Greece to the beat poets of the 60s, the spoken word has been a mainstay of human expression. Today’s modern take on heady soliloquies come in all forms, bending words and rhythms to evoke emotion from audiences. Shane Koyczan is considered one of the best modern spoken word artists in the world, and he will be performing on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at the Lorton Performance Center thanks to the efforts of OK So, Tulsa story slam and ahha Tulsa. 

Koyczan hopped on a call to chat about what he does and what Tulsans can expect from his upcoming performance. 

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Angela Evans: How would you describe what spoken word is, or what it is like to someone who has never experienced it before?

Shane Koyczan: I try to take people through the range of their own emotions. I think a lot of the times these days you’re not allowed to be emotional, or you are only allowed to be emotional in your own space and time. What I’m trying to do is give people permission to feel their feelings. I think people are surprised by the level humor in the show, despite talking about dark things like depression. I use humor to get through depression in my life. When someone wants a definition of what a spoken word show is, I think it’s a little bit of storytelling, a little bit of comedy, and little bit of rhythm, but it’s all passion and feeling. I think in a lot of ways emotion is a lot more honest than the things we say. 

Evans: How did this start for you?

Koyczan: It started out of loneliness. It started by not having anyone to talk to, and my grandmother putting a notepad and pen in my hand, saying, ‘You can talk to this, then.’ I got started through journaling and keeping diaries.

Evans: Around what age did you realize that you wanted or needed to share these words with others?

Koyczan: I knew from a very early age that words were going to play a role in my life. I didn’t know how. When you are you in school and you tell people you want to be a writer, a lot of people try to talk you out of it. School has a very specific agenda—to make you a functioning human in society. With art, there is no real set path to become an artist. If you want to be a doctor or lawyer, then you take these classes. Being an artist is a little bit like walking off the plank hoping that you’re going to be able to swim when you hit the water.

Evans: What types of themes inspire you?

Koyczan: I wouldn’t say that themes inspire me. I would say that themes happen to me. They happen to all of us every day, whether we are dealing with loss, depression, grief. There’s a whole range of things that occur. Life is chaotic. Life is bumping you all the time. A lot of the times what I’m writing about are the things that I’m going through. 

Evans: Is a lot of your writing very personal, or do you use other people’s stories or situations?

Koyczan: There’s a bit of both. There things that are directly my own stuff. And sometimes you encounter a story that’s just amazing. I think one thing that people forget about inspiration is that it’s not generated from inside you. It’s an outside force. It’s the world putting that thing in front of you to inspire you. Inspiration requires your participation.

Evans: My biggest takeaway from your work is that hope is implied. Is hope something that you feel like you have, that it originates from you, or that it is like your own personal pep talk?

Koyczan: I think for me a lot of times I’m trying to bolster my own spirits. There’s a line that one of the heaviest things you’ll have to lift is your own spirits. I feel like if you are born in the dark, you have to find ways to make your own light. 

Evans: You also have given your voice and your words to graphic novels, animation and music. Did you ever think that there would be so many divergent paths available to you as a spoken word artist?

Koyczan: One of the things about art in general is that it’s malleable. It can find its way into different genres and styles. Collaboration is such an important part of art and I love to collaborate. When that synergy starts to occur and you’re trading ideas back and forth, it’s very exciting. 

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Shane Koyczan: Spoken Word Artist 

Lorton Performance Center – University of Tulsa 

Oct. 9, 7 p.m., $23 


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