Hullabaloo is the youth poetry festival that leads off the Verses Festival of Words. 16 school teams featuring over 80 youth poets from all over British Columbia come together to compete in slams, participate in workshops, see great feature poets, and connect with other writers.
Hullabaloo is a forum where youth tell their stories, explore the issues that matter to them, and find their voice. Hullabaloo gathers poets from across British Columbia, connecting them together into a community of writers. Hullabaloo provides youth poets with access to and mentoring from established Canadian spoken word artists.
Hullabaloo was launched in 2011. The original concept for the festival was conceived by Youth Slam Coordinator RC Weslowski, English teacher Trevor Spilchen, and WordPlay Poetry-in-Schools Coordinator Chris Gilpin, all of whom are also practicing spoken word artists. The aim was to build upon the already burgeoning movement of Poetry Slam Clubs that were sprouting up in schools and connect these groups together in a forum where youth could showcase their talents, learn from mentors, and meet each other.
Hullabaloo 2011 developed partnerships with DOXA, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and The Cultch. 12 teams from the Greater Vancouver regional district participated in three semi-finals, the fourth semi-final was held in Victoria. The winner of each semi-final advanced to Team Finals Night, which was held at The Cultch in conjunction with the IGNITE! Youth Arts Festival and its Word! night. The finalists were: Dr. Charles Best Secondary (Coquitlam), Reynolds Secondary (Victoria), South Delta Secondary (Tsawwassen), and Tamanawis Secondary (Surrey). The team champion of Hullabaloo 2011 was Reynolds Secondary.
Hullabaloo 2012 saw us partner with the Telus Community Board to expand the event. 12 teams took part, including three from Victoria, and one from the Sunshine Coast. The festival kicked off a Spoken Word Jamboree with feature poet Mary Pinkoski. The poets had the chance to perform an intro piece and meet each other outside of a competition setting. Then, two days of preliminary bouts were held where each team competed twice. The top four highest-scoring teams advanced to Team Finals and the top twelve highest-scoring individual poets advanced to Indies Finals. Indies Finals with feature poets Jo Bee and Buddy Wakefield was held at The Rio Theatre and won by Floyd V.B. South Delta Secondary won the Team Finals competition on a night that saw feature sets by Mo Lawrence, Lee Cannon-Brown, and Khary Jackson. The other team finalists were Reynolds Secondary (Victoria), New Westminster Secondary (New Westminster), and Glenlyon Norfolk School (Victoria). The team from Burnsview Secondary (Delta) won the first-ever Spirit of the Slam award.
Hullabaloo 2013 was supported by the Telus Community Board. We developed a partnership with The Roundhouse Community Arts Centre, which hosted all the events and workshops April 3–6, 2013. The format was tweaked to allow more flexibility in team size and have out-of-town youth poets miss fewer school days. 12 teams took part from all regions of the Lower Mainland and Victoria. The winning team was Port Moody Secondary. Poet of Honour: Ikenna “OpenSecret” Onyegbula.
In 2014, we had to say goodbye to Telus as a supporter. We had a great relationship, but their funding guidelines specify that projects can be funded for a maximum of two years. Telus’ support kickstarted the festival and put it on solid ground. New funders, however, came forward to keep the festival rolling, including Canadian Heritage, BC Gaming, and the Brittania Community Centre who made a generous venue sponsorship. Because of Brittania’s support, we moved the festival main venue and headquarters to Astorino’s in the heart of Commercial Drive, which is the centre of the spoken word community in Vancouver. Poet of Honour: Sara Brickman.
In 2015, Hullabaloo gained a new sponsor in the form of the Vancouver Public Library. As part of this sponsorship, all but one of the Hullabaloo 2015 events took place at the VPL Central Branch in downtown Vancouver. 15 teams took part in Hullabaloo, including teams from Ashcroft and the Kootenays (composed of students from Ymir, Nelson, and Castlegar). The finalists were Reynolds Secondary (Victoria), Sardis Secondary (Chilliwack), Gleneagle Secondary (Coquitlam), and Discursive (Kootenays) – with Reynolds taking home the title of Hullabaloo champions and the fabled Billy Sharkspeare Trophy! Poet of Honour: Lucia Misch.
Following on a successful first year, Hullabaloo 2016 returned to the Vancouver Public Library for a second year. 14 teams participated in the slam tournament, with teams Slamsworth (Handsworth), Cool, Calm and Neglected (Gleneagle), Gibberish and the Hootenannies (Burnsview), and Asterisks (McMath) making finals. Cool, Calm and Neglected went on to win the legendary Billy Sharkspeare Trophy as Hullabaloo champions. Victoria’s Konnor Klashinsky was awarded the Zaccheus Jackson Spirit of the Slam award. Poet of Honour: Janet Rogers.
Hullabaloo 2017 saw Hullabaloo fully integrated into the Verses Festival of Words schedule. 13 teams participated in the slam tournament, with teams What Would Bert and Ernie’s Legs Look Like? (Gleneagle), Breakdown Babes (Handsworth), Game of Poems (Sardis), and 2013 Bocce Runner-Ups (Reynolds) making finals. What Would Bert and Ernie’s Legs Look Like? brought home the Billy Sharkspeare Trophy to Gleneagle Secondary for a second year in a row. Hullabaloo co-director Johnny MacRae was awarded the Zaccheus Jackson Spirit of the Slam award. Poet of Honour: Jeremy Loveday.
Hullabaloo 2018 will take place from April 19th to 21st at the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch – and yet again, history will be made!
RC Weslowski is the founder and organizer of the Vancouver Youth Poetry Slam, which happens on the 4th Monday of every month at Café Deux Soleils (2096 Commercial Dr). He also helps run the quarterly show Mashed Poetics, which mixes spoken word and classic rock, and was the Artistic Director of the 2005 Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. In 2008, RC Weslowski was named a Poet of Honour at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. In 2013, he was the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam champion.
Johnny MacRae has been a workshop leader for the WordPlay, Poetry in Schools program since 2009 and became Vancouver Poetry House Youth Education Coordinator in 2013. He was the 2010 Vancouver Poetry Slam Champion, the 2011 Canadian Festival of Spoken Word Underground Indies Champion, and the 2013 Victoria Spoken Word Poet of Honour. Outside of slams, Johnny tours across Canada regularly, both solo and as a part of the psychedelic talk rock duo, 2 Dope Boys in a Cadillac. He was a co-director of the 2014 Canadian Festival of Spoken Word.