After criticism led to its cancellation, SLĀV’s famed director Robert Lepage says the scrapping of the Montreal International Jazz Festival show is a “direct blow to artistic freedom.”
The show, performed by lead singer Betty Bonifassi, is described as “a theatrical odyssey based on slave songs,” but critics are calling it cultural appropriation.
In a statement released Friday on the Facebook page for Ex Machina, Lepage’s production company, the director said that if it were up to him, the show would still be running.
He says that he will let the critics and defenders of the show define cultural appropriation, “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,” Lepage writes.
Defending artistic expression
Lepage says that theatre has always been based on a simple principle: that of stepping into the shoes of another person to try to understand them.
“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,” Lepage said.
In many of his other shows that addressed injustices involving “specific cultural groups,” Lepage says he was never accused of cultural appropriation or racism.
He says theatre is a “living art form,” and that plays evolve constantly according to audience reactions.” He said the show’s cancellation after three performances meant this could never happen for SLĀV.
“I will always demand the right for theatre to talk about anything and anyone,” Lepage said.