Robert Lepage deplores the “e.g. muzzling” of “SLĀV”

Robert Lepage déplore le «muselage» de «SLĀV»

Photo: Francois Nascimbeni Agence France-Presse
“If it was up to me, the show would still be displayed,” said the stage director Robert Lepage.

After two weeks of controversy, Robert Lepage went out of his silence Friday, lamenting that his show SLĀV has been ” muzzled “. A response is rather late and does not open anything in the dialog with its critics, according to experts and stakeholders in the environment.

“He would have had to meet from the first night to open a real discussion, and maybe the show would have been able to continue. His response gives reason to its critics ; it remains in its own bubble and don’t seem to want to take part in the debate, ” says professor of art history at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Jean-Philippe Uzel.

On Friday morning, Lepage explained his silence in a press release, stating that “any statement of [his] hand, would only throw oil on the fire” of what he calls ” high-voltage atmosphere “.

Robert Lepage regrets the cancellation of his play by the Festival international de jazz de Montréal, which he sees as a ” blow to freedom of artistic expression “. “If it was up to me, the show would still be displayed,” he said. I consider my 40 years of experience in the arts scene allow me to speak with legitimacy of this aspect of the question. “

SLĀV was the subject of sharp criticism in the past two weeks. Inspired by the songs of african-american slaves, the show had two actresses black on six, which was seen by many as a blatant example of cultural appropriation.

Mr. Lepage has opted Friday not to address this issue in the debate. The playwright wants to ” leave it to the detractors and the defenders of the project the task of debating and defining what is cultural appropriation, because it is a problem that is eminently complex that[he did not] claim to be able to solve “.

Referring to his approach, he assured that he and his team — whose singer Betty Bonifassi — were aware of approaching a delicate subject, and ” it was [their] duty to act and create this show so respectful, thoughtful, informed, honest and integrity “. He added that the theatre practice is based on the simple principle of ” play to be someone else “, which may require that ” one borrows from the other to his look, his voice, his accent, and on the occasion of its kind “.

Comments that do not inspire dialogue, considers the playwright and activist Marilou Craft, which launched the controversy last November in a ticket. “I read a lot of justifications around its legitimacy as an artist, but I do not see any posture of listening to critics of his piece, nor even a response to the voices that were raised in the media. “

“He comes out of his silence to say nothing relevant, nothing that adds to the debate, and especially without recognizing that it has been able to make a mistake,” says the rapper and historian Webster.

Responsibility of the artist

For his part, Jean-Philippe Uzel, of UQAM, is concerned with the position adopted by Robert Lepage, who is hiding behind his freedom of creation and expression. “An artist is socially responsible and politically of its creation “, explains the professor, especially when he said ” engaged “. “Robert Lepage is among those who argue that theatre can transform society. So when the company told him that he went too far, it should measure the importance of his words and face the critics, ” said Mr. Uzel.

“Freedom of expression and artistic freedom are not absolute,” notes the professor of philosophy at the University of Montreal, Marc-Antoine Dilhac. There are many reasons to ban the expression of opinions, in the case of defamatory words, that convey hatred or a threat to the integrity of a person, for example. In art, the boundaries are more blurred, ” because it is rare that a work of art, even of a dispute, to be reducible to a single message, and if there is one, it remains ambiguous “. “But this is not because a work should not be prohibited it should not only not be criticized. A work always has a potential of controversy. But some works are missed and the controversies they provoke are sterile, ” says Dr. Dilhac.

Political awakening

Remained discrete on the controversy, the political parties in the national Assembly have called for dialogue on Friday, some taking the defence of Robert Lepage and his team.

“I invite the stakeholders in a dialogue to better understand themselves in order to avoid this kind of situation does not occur again,” said the minister of Culture, Marie Montpetit, adding that ” the freedom of expression and [the freedom] of creation are fundamental elements of our society and must be protected. However, we cannot control or judge what people are feeling. “

For its part, the criticism of the Parti québécois in the field of culture, Pascal Bérubé, said he was disappointed “that we made a trial of intent” to the creators. The cancellation of the show is a “serious consequence” of the controversy, according to him, the parliament will have to debate on the question of the freedom of expression of artists.

“There are questions to ask about what happened […] In the past, several messages are passed by the art and culture. Plays like this must continue to stand, ” said the press officer of the Coalition avenir Québec, Samuel Poulin.

The candidate for Québec solidaire in Mercier, Ruba Ghazal, for his part, felt that ” some of the criticisms launched at the creators and the viewers were excessive, but we should listen for once to the message that activists, women activists and artists black we launch “. It deplores the decision of the FIJM, which ” cuts short the debate rather than give oxygen to a mediation process “.

Challenged by the “sudden” release of the political class, Marilou Craft regrets that the real problem is not discussed. “We had a great opportunity to talk about racial inequalities in the cultural sphere and it hijacks the conversation to talk mostly about censorship and freedom of expression. “

With Catherine Lalonde


If SLĀV has not received specific funding from the Canada Council for the arts (CCA) and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ), his production team, Ex Machina, receives a grant of their share. “We closely follow the issues raised by the dissemination of SLĀV. They feed into the reflections of our board of directors, which would surely guide our next steps as an organization of public funding, ” said the CALQ to the Duty.

“The debate which we are witnessing currently in Quebec polarizes many people, let us not hide it ; it will happen again and again in the jury of peers, because it is not arrived yet at a social consensus. Each time, the border is pushed a little further, ” said Simon Brault, director and ceo of the CAC.