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Why do we remember trivial things like the tune of an old television advert but not our own telephone number? In the autobiographical solo 887 (the house number of his family home) theatrical magician Robert Lepage examines how our memory functions. With his cinematic, immersive theatre-making style, Lepage transports the audience to his childhood in the Québec City of the 1960s. He himself performs on stage, next to an impressive scale model of his childhood home, and tells about a family’s struggle to emerge from the working class and about his coming out, and he connects these stories to Québec’s liberation struggle. Lepage’s theatre is intimate, melancholic, and moving.
The Canadian theatre maker Robert Lepage has made his name since the 1990s with performances acclaimed for their vision and technical innovation. Lepage's theatre is usually packed with innovative theatre techniques, epic stories and appealing
characters. Two of the high points in his oeuvre are The Seven Streams of the River Ota (1994) – about Hiroshima, concentration camps and AIDS – and the solo The Far Side of the Moon (2000), a story about two rival brothers set in the context of the cold war and the space race. Lepage was at the Holland Festival three years ago, with the multimedia spectacle Playing Cards: SPADES. Now he is returning with 887, one of the most personal stories in his career.
Lepage combines personal anecdotes with rapid scene changes and a captivating stage presence in 887. He tells an autobiographical story that with significance beyond the personal. 887 is about how our memory works and how every individual's life can be seen in the light of the public narrative of history.
887 is the house number of the apartment complex on Murray Avenue in Quebec City, where Lepage grew up in the 1960s. He created a man-sized replica of the complex for the performance. Lepage is a giant next to his family home. He tells anecdotes about his quarrelling neighbours and his father, who tried to make ends meet as a taxi driver to support his family; and about his grandmother who had Alzheimer's disease.
But Lepage would not be Lepage if there was merely a text. The residents of the apartment complex are brought to life using miniature animation, puppetry in meticulously decorated dolls' living rooms, a radio-controlled car and video images. Lepage sometimes uses his smartphone to make live images. From his – literally – lofty perspective as a grown man, he uses small scenes to show life as a francophone child in the Canada of the 1960s.
A personal narrative becomes political when Lepage brings the Front de Libération du Québec into his story. The struggle for an independent Quebec rose to fever pitch in the 1960s, when the Front developed into a terrorist organisation. The Lepage family's life was affected by the struggle for independence and the corresponding linguistic conflict. Lepage, who calls himself a 'part-time separatist', explains the political context of the conflict in this work, without losing sight of the personal element. For instance, a recurring feature is his traumatic memory of the time he could not memorise the words of the Québécois protest poem Speak White, written by Michèle Lalonde, for a recital. 'Speak White' is a discriminatory insult that was used by Anglophone Canadians at the time against those who spoke other languages.
Lepage argues that the Front de Libération du Québec and the wider separatist movement did not arise from animus towards the Anglophone population, but that the struggle for independence was above all a class struggle. The French-speakers were almost always poor workers. All the bosses and rulers spoke English, whether with an American or a British accent. Lepage is emphatically not preaching separatism with 887. He simply wants to keep the memory alive.
The French-Canadian director Robert Lepage (1957, Quebec City) is internationally renowned for the technical innovation and beauty of his performances. As well as his status as a highly successful theatre and opera director, he is known as a playwright and screenwriter,
and has also directed six feature films. After his studies at the Conservatoire d'art dramatique de Québec and studying for a year in Paris, Lepage returned to his home town where he wrote, directed and played in several independent productions. He joined Théâtre Repère in 1980, creating Circulations for the company in 1984, which was his breakthrough in Canada. From 1989 to 1993 Lepage was the artistic director of The National Arts Centre's Théâtre Français in Ottawa. He directed Needles and Opium and a trilogy of Shakespearean productions (Macbeth, Coriolanus, The Tempest) all of which toured the world. In 1994 Lepage set up his own multidisciplinary production company Ex Machina. As its artistic director, he has built up an impressive oeuvre over the past twenty years, including landmark theatre productions such as The Seven Streams of the River Ota (1994), Elsinore (1995), The Dragons' Trilogy (2003), Lipsynch (2007), The Blue Dragon (2008), Eonnagata (2009) and The Far Side of the Moon (2000), which won an Evening Standard Award. In 2012 he made Playing Cards: SPADES and Playing Cards: HEARTS. SPADES was performed at the Holland Festival in 2013.
Lepage has directed and produced several operas since 1993, including Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung (1993), 1984 for the Royal Opera House in London (2005), Stravinksy's The Rake's Progress for De Munt/La Monnaie in Brussels (2007), Wagner's Ring Cycle for The Metropolitan Opera New York (2010-2012) and The Tempest by Thomas Adès in 2012. His productions of Le Rossignol and Renard (Stravinsky) were performed at the Dutch National Opera in 2012.
Holland Festival director Ruth Mackenzie has worked with Robert Lepage since the 1990s, when she invited the UK premiere of Coriolanus and Elsinore to the Nottingham Playhouse and the Scottish premiere of Kindertotenlieder to the Scottish Opera. As well as theatre and opera, Lepage has been responsible for some spectacular performances by Cirque du Soleil, including Totem which had its European premiere in Amsterdam in 2010. Lepage received the prestigious Prix Europe in 2007 among others.
- text, design, direction, performance
- Robert Lepage
- Louisa Blair
- creative direction, design
- Steve Blanchet
- Peder Bjurman
- assistant director
- Adèle Saint-Amand
- music design, sound design
- Jean-Sébastien Côté
- light design
- Laurent Routhier
- image designer
- Félix Fradet-Faguy
- associate set design
- Sylvain Décarie
- associate properties design
- Ariane Sauvé
- associate costumes design
- Jeanne Lapierre
- production manager
- Marie-Pierre Gagné
- production assistant
- Véronique St-Jacques
- technical director
- Paul Bourque
- tour manager
- Samuel Sauvageau
- technical director-touring
- Olivier Bourque
- stage manager
- Nadia Bélanger
- sound manager
- Olivier Marcil
- lighting manager
- Renaud Pettigrew
- multimedia integration & video manager
- Nicolas Dostie
- costumes & properties manager
- Isabel Poulin
- head stagehand
- Chloé Blanchet
- technical consultants
- Catherine Guay, Tobie Horswill
- acting consultant - creative process
- Reda Guerinik
- director's agent
- Lynda Beaulieu
- Ex Machina
- commissioned by
- The Arts and Culture Program of the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am, Parapan Am Games
- le lieu unique, Nantes; La Comète - Scène nationale de Châlons-en-Champagne; Edinburgh International Festival; Århus Festuge; Théâtre de la Ville-Paris; Festival d'Automne à Paris; Romaeuropa Festival 2015; Bonlieu Scène nationale Annecy; Ysarca Art Promotions - Pilar de Yzaguirre; Célestins, Théâtre de Lyon; SFU Woodward's Cultural Programs, on the occasion of Simon; Fraser University's 50th Anniversary, Vancouver; Le Théâtre français du Centre national des Arts d’Ottawa; Le Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, Montréal; Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre; Canadian Stage, Toronto; Théâtre du Trident, Québec; La Coursive Scène nationale La Rochelle; Le Volcan, Scène nationale du Havre; The Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York; The Bergen International Festival; Holland Festival, Amsterdam; Chekhov International Theatre Festival, Moscow
- producer Ex Machina
- Michel Bernatchez (assisted by Vanessa Landry-Claverie and Valérie Lambert)
Ex Machina is funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, Quebec's Arts and Literature Council and the City of Quebec.
- associate production
- Europe and Japan: Epidemic (Richard Castelli, assisted by Chara Skiadelli, Florence Berthaud and Claire Dugot)
The Americas, Asia (except Japan), Australia, New Zealand: Menno Plukker Theatre Agent (Menno Plukker assisted by Sarah Rogers and Dominique Sarrazin)