The man behind a controversial, cancelled Jazz Festival show that stirred up a conversation over cultural appropriation has broken his silence.

In a statement posted to Facebook, Robert Lepage criticized the show’s detractors, calling the show’s cancellation “a direct blow to artistic freedom.”

“Since the dawn of time, theatre has been based on a very simple principle, that of playing someone else. Pretending to be someone else. Stepping into the shoes of another person to try to understand them, and in the process, perhaps understand ourselves, better. This ancient ritual requires that we borrow, for the duration of a performance, someone else’s look, voice, accent and at times even gender,” he said.  “But when we are no longer allowed to step into someone else’s shoes, when it is forbidden to identify with someone else, theatre is denied its very nature, it is prevented from performing its primary function and is thus rendered meaningless.”

SLAV, which features a largely white cast singing songs composed by black slaves, was cancelled by festival organizers on Wednesday. Artist Moses Sumner pulled out of his Jazz Fest show, citing SLAV as the reason.

Lepage acknowledged the debate over cultural appropriation, calling it a “complex problem,” and said that while SLAV may have been flawed, the show should have been allowed to evolve.

“It’s obvious that any new show comes with its share of blunders, misfires and bad choices. But unlike a number of other art forms theatre is not fixed. It’s a living art form, that allows a play to grow and evolve constantly, to be perpetually rewritten according to audience reactions, and to be fine tuned show after show,” he said.  “This evolution was never to happen for SLĀV since the run was cancelled after only three performances.”