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SLAV - Robert Lepage's Reaction

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Today I’m reaching out with this statement to share my views with all and explain the position I’ve taken on our production SLĀV.

First, I would like to emphasize the fact that Betty Bonifassi, her singers, the Ex Machina team and I were aware from the beginning of the project that we were taking on a sensitive subject and that it was our responsibility to work to create this show with dilligence, respect, honesty and integrity.

That said, my team and I felt that, in the overcharged atmosphere created by our show, it would be wiser to remain silent since any statement we might make would throw oil on the fire.

As long as the show was being performed, it was speaking for itself and we didn’t have anything to add to the debate, which also allowed us to listen to the arguments of those who were opposed to our show being presented.

But now that SLĀV has been officially muzzled, we have to use another way to communicate.

I prefer to let the detractors and defenders of the project debate and define what cultural appropriation means, for it is an extremely complicated problem and I don’t pretend to know how to solve it.

To me, what is most appalling is the intolerant discourse heard both on the street and in some media. Everything that led to this cancellation is a direct blow to artistic freedom, and after 40 years of working in the theatre, I think I can legitimately address this part of the question.

Since the dawn of time, theatre has been based on a very simple principle, that of playing someone else. Pretending to be someone else.  Stepping into the shoes of another person to try to understand them, and in the process, perhaps understand ourselves, better. This ancient ritual requires that we borrow, for the duration of a performance, someone else’s look, voice, accent and at times even gender.

But when we are no longer allowed to step into someone else’s shoes, when it is forbidden to identify with someone else, theatre is denied its very nature, it is prevented from performing its primary function and is thus rendered meaningless

Over the course of my career, I have devoted entire shows denouncing injustices done throughout history to specific cultural groups, without actors from said groups. 

These shows have been performed all over the world, in front of very diverse audiences, without anyone accusing me of cultural appropriation, let alone of racism. Quite the contrary. These projects have always been very well received and have contributed to make Ex Machina one of the most respected theatre companies in the world.

It’s obvious that any new show comes with its share of blunders, misfires and bad choices. But unlike a number of other art forms theatre is not fixed. It’s a living art form, that allows a play to grow and evolve constantly, to be perpetually rewritten according to audience reactions, and to be fine tuned show after show.

This evolution was never to happen for SLĀV since the run was cancelled after only three performances.

If it were up to me, the show would still be running, for I will always demand the right for theatre to talk about anything and anyone.

Without exception.


Robert Lepage

July 6, 2018

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