'Memory is a weird thing': Canadian theatre legend Robert Lepage explores the instability of memory in 887

The highly inventive piece also delves into Quebec's cultural revolution

The highly inventive piece also delves into Quebec's cultural revolution

In 887, revered Canadian theatre artist Robert Lepage delves into his past — and into the notion of memory itself. (Erick Labbe)

Robert Lepage is one of Canada's most beloved theatre and film artists, and for decades he has captivated audiences with his highly inventive works. But in 887, he's taken on a role he has never played before: himself.

Named after the street number of his childhood home, the show at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa this month explores themes of memory and loss, and taps into 1970s cultural revolution in Québec — but from a personal perspective. 

The ingenious set features a full apartment building scaled down to human height, and Lepage recounts the stories of its colourful residents. He also plays with the pitfalls of artistic creation and the instability of memory.

On Wednesday's q, Lepage is Tom Power's guest. And in their interview, he talks about just how unreliable memory can be.

"You realize that you remember things that you haven't actually lived. A lot of the memories you have of your childhood or your teenage life have been implanted by somebody else or by somebody in the environment," he says. "And I remember telling these anecdotes one day at a party and somebody said, 'Well you can't remember this because you weren't born yet when this thing happened.' And the people would prove it. Well why do I remember this?

"Memory is weird thing. It's not a real thing. It's a fabrication. There's this whole kind of false narrative that we've invented in the place of our past," he says. "And I try to give it value. I said, 'Well then that's art, that's poetry. Why not bring that on stage even if it's not all true?' But for me that's more interesting, to remember these false memories than the real ones."

But the most recent run of 887 isn't the only major work the veteran artist has on the go. Lepage is also getting set to premiere Frame By Frame, a collaboration with the National Ballet of Canada that delves into the life and work of legendary Canadian filmmaker and animator Norman McLaren — an artist who won an Oscar for his 1952 film Neighbours, and whose unmistakable style influenced generations of artists who followed. 

Weaving together sound, visuals and dance, the piece both evokes and explores the elusive artist's highly imaginative world. 

Frame by Frame runs in Toronto June 1 to 10. Lepage show with the Stratford Festival, Corolianus, also opens June 22.


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