Martin Robillard · Blog

Attending Classes for Communion

27 December 2015 by Martin P. Robillard

If a university class is video-recorded, why bother showing up?

Celebrated Canadian playwright Robert Lepage might have one answer: to commune, and be an influential part of the academic picture. During a recent interview at the Montreal Polytechnique engineering school, Lepage expounded on the merits of attending productions in person. Although it's debatable whether professors qualify as performance artists, the parallel with academia is obvious.

Robert Lepage: (as freely translated by myself)

Nowadays people often talk about "communication": what you transmit through communication. It can be communication through technology such as cameras, the world of "canned things", what we record, the world of information: television, social media. All of this is "information". We get informed, we communicate.

What is special in the performing arts is that, yes, there's communication, but it's more about communion [...]. That's very tangible. Maybe you have to be an actor or to move around in this kind of world [to understand], but communion, it's a way to communicate things that is very different from "communication", or "information". Communion is a very, very important thing that social media are in the process of throwing into the garbage, but that we have to return to. We have to come back to communion.

In Europe after World War II when it was time to rebuild the cities, one of the first thing people rebuilt were theaters because, back then, that's where people could commune. People came, sat down, watched a story unfold, and something happened, there, at that gathering, at this communion of the minds, where we are all together "live" and we watch something, and someone is telling us a story, relates a tragedy or a comedy, and we all react to this and we all contribute to this thing. That's communion. And you understand things in a very different way when you commune, than when you communicate.

It looks like I'm playing with words but I swear that this is very, very concrete. That's why I still believe in the power of the "live". Something happens among us today [at the live panel] that cannot happen if I'm recorded, it's not possible..., I would communicate things on the video, but right now I am sharing things with you, it's very different. Sometimes the difference can be subtle, but communion is very important. What communion means is that you can act. If all of us together go to the movie theater to see "Back to the Future III": we sit down, and whether we cry with laughter, we scream, we make a commotion, we toss our pop corn, it will not change anything to what is on the screen, our presence has no power whatsoever, it cannot change anything, it's sterile. But if we are at the theater, at the ballet, at the opera, and things like this, and that we do not agree, or that we agree, or that we want to support, or that we want to say "yes", or that we want to say "ah, yes, I can relate to that", that has a power. That has an enormous power. That changes people on the stage, that changes us [in the audience] as well. That is what communion is.