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Indigenous artists criticize SLAV director Lepage for new show 'Kanata'

Last Updated Jul 16, 2018 at 1:20 pm EDT

Canadian playwright, actor, film director and stage director Robert Lepage, of Quebec City, speaks to reporters at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on November 10, 2010. Lepage says he is willing to meet with people who are opposed to one of his his upcoming shows because it does not include Indigenous performers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

MONTREAL – Shortly after a run of his play SLAV was cancelled amid accusations of racial insensitivity, Quebec director Robert Lepage is once again being criticized for a lack of representation in one of his stage shows.

About 30 people signed an open letter in Le Devoir on Saturday to denounce Lepage for not including Indigenous performers in his upcoming show “Kanata.”

The show, which claims to explore Canada’s history “through the lens of the relationship between white and Aboriginal people,” will be performed in Paris by a French acting group in December.

Metis actor and theatre director Dave Jeniss, who signed the letter, said it was too bad the show’s producers decided to consult Indigenous people when creating the show, but not to include them in the final performance.

“Once again, they take our stories, they question Aboriginals and then push them aside completely,” he said in a phone interview.

The letter’s signatories referred to an interview with Paris theatre director Ariane Mnouchkine, who told Le Devoir that the performance will not include any North American actors.

The Theatre du Soleil has said it is the first time it’s invited a guest director, in this case Lepage, to lead its troupe in a performance.

Jeniss said the goal of the letter isn’t to censor anyone, but rather to invite the show’s creators to reflect on why Indigenous artists are not included in Kanata.

“Next time, I think there needs to be a stronger association with Indigenous people,” he said.

The letter was signed by about 20 Indigenous artists and activists as well as a dozen or so non-Indigenous “allies,” that include lawyers, artists and academics.

The controversy comes after Montreal’s Jazz festival cancelled a multi-night run of the Lepage-led play SLAV amid protests by activists who claimed that it amounted to cultural appropriation because it featured a white woman and largely white cast singing songs composed by black slaves.

A representative for Lepage’s production company said he wasn’t immediately available to comment.

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