‘Stickboy’ opera breaks and heals hearts
By Mercedes Deutscher, Staff Writer
Stickboy is the second production in the Vancouver Opera’s 2014-15 season and, more importantly, the production’s world premiere. Its all-too-familiar story and barrier-breaking format make it an excellent first production for those who are wary of opera or those who have never experienced it before. What makes this show stand out from other operas is a new dynamic never before seen in opera performances: combining elements of both opera and spoken word poetry.
The story of Stickboy follows the life of a boy (Sunny Shams) from the Northwest Territories who is being raised by his grandparents during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The boy is bullied constantly throughout his childhood due to his weight. He gets teased, has his property stolen and vandalized, and experiences more violent and physical attacks. He only receives sympathy and understanding from his grandmother (Megan Latham).
The boy attempts to cope with the bullying in different ways, such as writing, trying to keep quiet, and nearly resorting to violent attacks himself. He and his family move from the Northwest Territories to BC. In his new school, the boy transforms from being a victim to becoming a bully himself.
Stickboy is an autobiography of Shane Koyczan’s childhood, adapted from his novel of the same name. Koyzan, now a spoken word poet, brought his artistry and story to the stage, writing the libretto for the show.
The show’s music is composed by Neil Weisensel and contemporarily crafted with beautiful orchestration. The singing roles, ranging from baritone to soprano, all complement each other beautifully. The chorus created overwhelming moments that truly reflect the inner struggle of the boy—a stellar example of which is whenever students are urging for fights with the boy. While some moments involve complex choral arrangement of many vocalists, the composition also engages audiences with simpler ones. A scene with the Boy and his grandmother stuck out not because of its complexity but because of its simplicity, as the scene featured a lyric-less hum lightly aided by a gentle orchestra.
An honourable mention in vocal performance should be extended to Latham, the mezzo soprano vocalist who plays the grandmother. Her solo songs brought a gentleness and calm to both her character and the scenes she was in. Meanwhile, Shams brings a youthful tenor voice to the role of the boy, making a strong debut in his first production with the Vancouver Opera.
In addition to subject matter, writing, and composition, the set and stage flow like water, effortlessly and quickly. A rotating platform on the stage allows for quick scene changes with complex scenery. The background is projected behind the performance. Sometimes the background shows the physical scene, be it a hallway or wintery walks home. Other times, it shows the audience important events that they wouldn’t be able to usually see, such as the grandmother and the boy exchanging notes.
The murals that made the inner struggle and torment of the boy visible are of great importance in the production. They become especially important when the boy evolves from being the victim into being the bully.
Another noteworthy aspect is the costumes, which bring a heavy realism to the production by showing how recent and relevant the subject matter really is. It is astounding how well the performers did, especially the boy, when dressed in heavy winter clothing. It was believable that these performers were teenagers and older authorities, despite many of them playing characters much younger or older than themselves.
This production is almost flawless and I highly recommend people go see it. It is a deeply raw, emotional, and moving production, especially for younger audience members. Several moments left viewers, including myself, in tears.
For younger attendees, the Vancouver Opera has enacted a new program that will allow patrons under the age of 35 to purchase tickets for select seats at a discounted rate of $35 instead of the usual $99. Stickboy runs until November 7, after which it is expected to tour BC high schools.