If you haven’t heard about Stickboy, welcome to town because you must have just arrived. With striking murals popping up across the city, provocative posters in transit stations and full-length features in the media, this Vancouver Opera world premiere has garnered a serious amount of buzz. Its story—based on spoken word artist Shane Koyczan’s own childhood experience with bullying, violence and depression—not only epitomizes today’s anti-bullying movement, but is also expected to strike a very personal chord for many. For Capilano University Theatre instructor and Stickboy fight choreographer Nicholas Harrison, however, the resonance is especially strong.

From Nic’s C.V., he looks like someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. A London-trained actor, a master’s and a PhD holder, an experienced stunt performer, a radio and television personality and a professional kendo fighter (yes, that’s Japanese sword fighting). Handsome, articulate and confident, you’d never imagine he was the victim of traumatic sexual and physical abuse as a child. Nic is also one of the few brave souls who have shared their stories as adults. His is found most prominently in an autobiographical case study he completed for his PhD entitled Unleashing the Jedi Within (warning: graphic content).

As he describes in the paper, it was, in the end, a story, a performance—in George Lucas’ fictional Star Wars universe where renegade good guys triumph over evil—that pushed Nic to survive and heal form his own dark experiences. “I did as much as I could to be a Jedi!” remembers Nic today, having become so fascinated with Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber skills that he subsequently trained and competed as a kendo fighter for the British national team, later to become an in-demand fight director for theatre, film and television.

Having worked with Vancouver Opera in the past, Nic caught word of Stickboy early on and his reaction was instant: “Oh my gosh I really need to be involved in this.”

Especially in such a meaningful and personal work, it was crucial for everyone to be comfortable with the level of violence in the show, and this was where Nic’s expertise came in. At times, he says the choreography will be “raw and real.” Other moments will be more dramatic or stylized, all depending on the comfort level of the artists and what reactions are desired from the audience.

While Nic is open about his life and career with his students, and he’d love for them to come to the show, he says he’d be the last to “sell” one type of performance art over another. Considering the topic, the aesthetic and the artist behind this particular production, however, Nic predicts young people will naturally take notice.

“This opera is going to hopefully make people really think of the issues of bullying and violence and abuse,” says Nic, deciding that “enjoy” is just too complicated a word to use for it. “I really do hope that this will end up polarizing the audience. Some will be moved, some will be quite angry about it as well. When you talk about abuse and people who have been abused, it’s going to elicit that kind of response. I’m excited to find out what the audience goes away with.”

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Stickboy runs from October 23 to November 7 with special pricing for students and young people. Visit Vancouver Opera for tickets and details.

Submitted by Marketing & Communications