887 is a journey into the realm of memory. The idea for this project originated from the childhood memories of Robert Lepage; years later, he plunges into the depths of his memory and questions the relevance of certain recollections. Why do we remember the phone number from our youth yet forget our current one? How does a childhood song withstand the test of time, permanently ingrained in our minds, while the name of a loved one escapes us? How does memory work? How does a personal memory resonate within the collective memory?
The play also focuses on oblivion, the unconscious, and this memory that fades over time and whose limits are compensated for by digital storage, mountains of data and virtual memory. In this era, how is theatre, an art based on the act of remembering, still relevant today?
All of these questions are distilled into a story where Lepage, somewhere between a theatre performance and a conference, reveals the suffering of an actor who – by definition, or to survive – must remember not only his text, but also his past, as well as the historical and social reality that has shaped his identity.
The themes of memory and theatre have always been closely connected, primarily because theatre is probably the form of expression that best embodies collective memory. The proof is that, throughout history, the first thing a totalitarian regime does to ensure the eradication of a culture is to burn the books – an act that’s usually followed by killing the singers, the storytellers and the actors who carry the living memory of songs, poems and theatrical works. In a more pragmatic way, memory is strongly tied to theatre because those practicing it must put a lot of effort into memorization. When an actor makes his or her first onstage debut, aren’t the first comments after the premiere usually ‘You’ve got a great memory!’ or ‘How did you learn all those lines?’ So it’s normal that cognitive decline and dementia are themes that are, at the very least, troubling for an actor. I never would have guessed that the exploration of personal memory I embarked on to create this show would lead me to the complexities of the class struggle and identity crisis of 1960s-era Quebec. It’s as though the most distant memories of personal events are incomplete if they don’t take into account the social context in which they happened. This show is, therefore, not the discourse of an adult promoting a cause but rather a journey into a pre-adolescent’s memory, where the political and the poetic are often conflated.
887 is, for me, a humble attempt to delve into a history with a small ‘h’ to better understand the one with the big ‘H’.
– Robert Lepage
The stage becomes the site of memory. Lepage (assisted by an offstage team) adroitly manipulates scale replicas and actual-sized sets, representing private and public spaces: the facade of his apartment block, like a giant doll’s house, opens windows on to family lives; Quebec’s Parc des Braves appears, laid out on a table wheeled against a pictured cityscape; a taxi driver drinks Coca-Cola in a 1960s diner; Lepage studies the poem in his 2010s kitchen. Is he memorising the lines, or his own life, or the life of his country and the lines that connect them?
– Claire Brennan, The Guardian
The opening is a little like being buttonholed by a guy at a party before you’ve even had a drink, but his line of chat is so persuasive that eventually you forget about the drink, the party and pretty much everything except the world he’s creating with his words. (...)
Mr. Lepage has never been an especially modest artist. He’s the guy who recently gave BAM a nearly nine-hour meditation on the human voice and spent $16 million creating a spectacular and largely disliked ‘Ring’ cycle for the Metropolitan Opera. But ‘887’ has a lot less ‘Götterdämmerung’ than much of his work, and its best moments share a childlike simplicity, as when he stands just to the side of the model apartment house and watches a miniature version of his beloved father’s taxi drive away, its sign mournfully ablaze. There are many technological marvels – a signature of Mr. Lepage’s work – but they’re humanely scaled and rarely deployed for their own sake. Raw emotional force builds from the accretion of slight moments of remembrance and discovery.
– Alexis Soloski, The New York Times
ROBERT LEPAGE The multidisciplinary artist, Robert Lepage is all at once an actor, a director, a playwright and a stage director. Hailed by international critics, his original, contemporary and unusual works, inspired by recent history, transcend borders and challenge the standards of scenic writing, particularly through the use of new technologies. From a very early age, Robert Lepage takes a keen interest in geography, but his growing passion for theatre dictates his choice of career: he enrolls at the Conservatoire d’art dramatique de Québec in 1975. After an internship with Alain Knapp in Paris in 1978, he returns to his hometown, where he develops the great artistic versatility for which he is known. The year 1994 marks an important step in his career: he founds Ex Machina, a multidisciplinary creation company of which he is the artistic director. Also under his leadership, the multidisciplinary production center, La Caserne, is created in June 1997, in Quebec City. This last creative space sees the birth of almost all of Ex Machina’s productions until 2019. Robert Lepage’s visionary side and will to create led him to promote and implement the construction of Le Diamant theatre in the heart of Quebec City. Inaugurated in August 2019, this new and unique cultural venue is intended to be an anchor point for the public, emerging artists and creators from all horizons. His most significant works include: the plays, The Seven Streams of the River Ota and The Dragons’ Trilogy; his solos, The Far Side of the Moon and 887; the operas, The Damnation of Faust and Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle; his multimedia works, The Image Mill and The Library at Night; Peter Gabriel’s shows, The Secret World Tour and The Growing Up Tour; and with Cirque du Soleil, KÀ and TOTEM.
EX MACHINA Ex Machina is a multidisciplinary production company under the artistic direction of Robert Lepage. In 1994, when Robert Lepage asked his collaborators to help find a name for his new company, he had one condition: the word theatre could not be part of the name. Ex Machina is thus a multidisciplinary company bringing together actors, writers, set designers, technicians, opera singers, puppeteers, computer graphic designers, video artists, contortionists and musicians. Ex Machina’s creative team believes that the performing arts – dance, opera, music – should be mixed with recorded arts – filmmaking, video art and multimedia. That there must be meetings between scientists and playwrights, between set painters and architects, and between artists from Quebec and the rest of the world. New artistic forms will surely emerge from these gatherings. Ex Machina wants to rise to the challenge and become a laboratory, an incubator for a form of theatre that will reach and touch audiences from this new millennium.