Before the show.
I took Intro to Backstage Theatre last semester and we talked about Robert Lepage and his amazing stage work, so I'm very excited to see the lighting design and the way he'll use the set to enhance the story he will tell. Looking at the promotional photos as well, of Lepage standing beside a small building, it makes me already start to wonder what this little apartment building will come to mean and what its function is in the story.
I love live theatre, and live events in general. I'm a visual arts student and my favourite kind of art to view is sculptural and installation art because it's so engaging, and an experience I would also call a "live event". For the viewer, this kind of dimensional art is engaging because they can walk around it, examine the piece at their own leisure, evaluate how they feel, and—if it's a good piece—they will want to spend a long time with the work, exploring it and finding new things as they see it from different angles. For the artist, it's engaging because the creation os sculptural and installation art involves so many choices: how does the viewer approach the work? How will the space around interact with your piece? How will the viewer feel standing in this space with your piece? Are you leading your viewer to a clear message, or do you want it to be more ambiguous? What kind of light will you use and how will that affect the way your piece is viewed, and the way your viewer feels in the space? Will there be sound? There are so many choices that go into making artwork, especially when your piece is three-dimensional, and I find that theatre does almost exactly the same thing, so I always try to pay close attention to the creative choices made for the show.
Everything that you see in a production is a choice that the creative team consciously made with the message of their piece and the way the audience will view and engage with it in mind. I look forward to seeing the kinds of choices Lepage and his team will make with his show's design and how it affects the way I experience ad engage with the story he will tell.
After the show.
I found Lepage's show was very well done, both technically and narratively! Although a lot of the Quebec politics went over my head (as someone who isn't from Quebec and has a hard time grasping politics in general), I found that the storytelling through his set was captivating, and the lighting and sound really came together with the set to create an overall effect of Lepage ambling around in his memories, his body becoming both a part of his past as he physically relives some of it, and yet a distinctly separate entity as he recalls his memories and narrates them with a touch of hindsight, looking down on the little figures of his past and the little apartment building of his childhood. I am also very impressed with the way the show was easy to follow despite the amount of flashbacks that occur and the way the audience is thrown back and forth within his memories.
Performance-wise, I thoroughly enjoyed the way he would go between comfortably addressing his audience and very clearly performing certain parts of his script. The way he performed "Speak White" was absolutely powerful and full of emotion. I also enjoyed how the house lights were up at the beginning of the show when Lepage was introducing it, and near the end as he was discussing the types of people in the audience that he would be performing to—making us as the audience aware of our role in the piece, that this is a show and that he is a performer currently performing a story, as deeply personal as that story is to him.
The thing I'm most excited to talk about, however, is his stage mechanics and his use of technology to tell his story! I'd heard that he created beautiful sets and made very creative use of technology, but I never could have expected how eye-opening the show was to me in terms of using technology to get closer, dig deeper, and make the audience feel more included in something deeply personal.
The apartment building itself was amazing in its versatility, being so many things at once—a whole apartment building, a projection screen that provided a background to different settings, a bar, Lepage's own apartment, a living room, a cab, to name a few examples—and it was captivating in its mystery of how it came to be and the way it opened and changed and rotated.
The video integration was seamless, and I found it added so much magic and depth in the way the little figures in the apartment building came to life before our eyes, the way there was a person in the kitchen at the back of the bar, the way the silhouette of his sister came to life on the bottom bunk of their bed and started interacting with Lepage himself. I also loved that he used video projection as a translating tool as he spoke French.
The live camera was also a great touch in terms of inviting the audience to become even more intimate with the story, closing up on what Lepage himself is seeing, and creating little scenes to emphasize the story he's currently telling. One of my favourite parts in terms of the live camera was near the end as he was walking down a street and the leaves are falling, there's a random pair of rain boots and you sort of wonder what the boots are doing there until the camera rolls up behind the boots and he tells the story of how was talking to a man, and although you see the boots right there on stage and they are clearly not attached to anyone, on the video screen, the boots imply an intimidating figure confronting Lepage in the rain, and it becomes so powerful.
Robert Lepage took a story that, on paper, I would find much easier to create with a different medium—one that made it easy to distinguish between time frames, like film—and brought it to life on a stage in a modern and fascinating way. He had the audience ambling alongside him as he explored his memories, on his journey to memorizing a politically important poem, and the atmosphere he created was intimate in the way he told his story with humour and reverence to the past figures in his life, like the audience was an old friend. It was a show that really made you the way you think about and explore your own memories, and how the shape who you are in the present.
I enjoyed the show a lot and would recommend it, especially if technology is your thing!
Hello! My name is Reine Tejares, and this is my blog for THE 2100: The Theatrical Event at the University of Ottawa.