Quebec director Robert Lepage says he is willing to meet with people who are opposed to one of his upcoming shows because it does not include Indigenous performers.
About 30 people signed an open letter in Le Devoir on Saturday to denounce Lepage for the absence of Indigenous actors in the show called Kanata.
The show, which claims to explore Canada’s history “through the lens of the relationship between white and Aboriginal Peoples,” will be performed in Paris in December by a French acting group.
The criticism comes shortly after a run of Lepage’s play SLAV was cancelled in Montreal amid accusations of racial insensitivity because it featured few black actors.
Nakuset, the executive director of the Montreal Native Women’s Shelter, who signed the letter, says she is surprised Lepage would not include Indigenous actors in Kanata.
“We have strong, strong, strong Indigenous actors and directors … there are tons of people who can do it,” she said in an interview Monday.
“When it’s someone who is Indigenous sharing their story, it is so much stronger and more powerful.”
Nakuset also said Lepage is doing a disservice to the Indigenous community as well as the people who buy his tickets.
“People who don’t know us, romanticize us, so they’re going to this show and they’re going to see people with braided wigs and they’re going to ask for their money back,” she said.
Lepage also said he consulted someone in the Indigenous community about Kanata, but that claim came as a surprise to Nakuset.
“We’re all like, who? where?,” she said. “Montreal is a very small community and we’re all trying to figure out who he consulted with.”
Nakuset plans to attend the meeting which Lepage has proposed for Thursday when Paris theatre director Ariane Mnouchkine will be in Montreal.
Lepage’s invitation is being welcomed by Dave Jenniss, the artistic director of Ondinnok, a French-speaking Indigenous theatre company.
Jenniss, who also signed the open letter, said he hopes to obtain an explanation about the lack of Indigenous representation in Kanata.
He also stated the meeting would be an opportunity to make Lepage and Mnouchkine aware of the Indigenous point of view.
“Unfortunately, this should have been done long before this but I’m taking it in the right spirit,” Jenniss said.
“I think it’s a nice initiative … to want to meet us and to have a dialogue.”
Lepage is also offering to meet with representatives of a group opposed to SLAV before the next time it is presented in Quebec, early next year. But a spokesman for the group said Monday morning it had not yet had any formal contact from Lepage.
With files from Pierre Saint-Arnaud