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Canadian director brings monodrama about Quebec childhood to Korea

Canadian theater artist, director and actor Robert Lepage is presenting the production “887” for the first time in Seoul. The piece sheds light on the Quebec separatist movement from his own experience of living as a member of a Francophone family.

The production is a work of “autofiction,” Lepage said during a press conference Monday at the Embassy of Canada to Korea. “887” runs between Wednesday and June 2 at the LG Arts Center in Gangnam-gu, Seoul.

Theater director Robert Lepage speaks during a press conference at the Canadian Embassy in Seoul on Monday. (LG Art Center)
Theater director Robert Lepage speaks during a press conference at the Canadian Embassy in Seoul on Monday. (LG Art Center)

The artist is best known for his 2000 work “The Far Side of the Moon,” in which he reflected on the Cold War-era space race between the Soviet Union and the United States through the fraught relationship between two brothers.

“887” is similar to “The Far Side of the Moon,” in a way, in that Lepage makes another attempt to create a personal history that echoes a larger history, referring to the former as history with a “small h” and the latter as history with a “capital H.”

The monodrama, which premiered in 2015, dives into the childhood memories of the artist, the youngest of five, and the apartment at 887 Murray Avenue in Quebec City, Canada, where he grew up.

Through the autobiographical story, the artist reflects upon the cultural and political changes taking place in Quebec -- especially the separatist movement -- in the 1960s and 1970s.

“It was very clear that a character like my father in the show, who was a taxi driver, was struggling.”

The majority of French-speaking families in Canada were “clearly in a class struggle situation,” he said.

Nearly all of the events and all of the people in the story are true, he said. But he has “cheated” or reorganized some facts to make the story easier to understand and more presentable to the audience, the artist said.

“The danger with that is that you become so convinced that that’s the truth. Eventually, you have conversations with people and your family and they say, ‘No, no, no that’s in your show. It’s not the real thing. The real thing is a bit different,’” Lepage said.

Memories and the act of remembering are important as they are ways to avoid repeating mistakes.

“Art is there to remember, to remind people who they were, what happened and how it happened. By re-enacting historical events and by reminding people of historical context, you refresh the memory of the society. You open that table not to create the same mistakes,” he said.

To summon collective memories, Lepage has the stage decorated with dollhouse-scale buildings, miniature props and stage effects based on technology. He confessed that he is “totally ignorant of how it works” and is perhaps the “lousiest person” when it comes to technology.

Lepage said theater is a great form of art in which you can incorporate many other forms of art.

They “can be helpful to retell the same stories in a different way, to color them in a different way, to express them in a different way.”

When asked about his use of music in the show -- including classical pieces by Chopin, as well as songs reflecting American pop culture in the 1960s -- the multidisciplinary artist said the musical elements played an important role in triggering his memories.

“Why is it that (I) remember very well songs from the ’60s but have problems remembering my script today?” Lepage asked, reflecting on his fascination with the way the memory works with music.

All the efforts spent reconstructing his memories finally add up to an experience that is more than simply watching Netflix on your couch.

“It’s a big effort today for you to come out, park the car, buy the tickets, make sure you have the reservations and pay for a babysitter. It’s a huge undertaking,” Lepage said.

To reward all those efforts, theater should be able to offer the audience a life-changing experience and a sense of “communion.”

“Otherwise, it’s much cheaper and easier to stay home and watch Netflix,” he said.

By Shim Woo-hyun (

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