A recent issue of the Canadian Theatre Review declared that the best-known Canadian celebrity in England is Céline Dion. The second is actor, director, writer, and filmmaker Robert Lepage.
That's surprising news, no doubt, to millions of Canadians who would be hard-pressed to explain who Lepage is and what he does, but no surprise at all in his native Quebec, where his has been a household name for nearly 20 years.
Born in Quebec City on December 12, 1957, and raised in a bilingual household, Lepage was admitted to the Conservatoire d'art dramatique de Québec at age 18. After completing his professional training in Paris at the Alain Knapp theatre school, he returned to Quebec City and joined the ThéÃ¢tre RepÃ¨re. It was there that Lepage soon established himself as a major new creative force.
It was Lepage's 1984 creation, Circulations, that brought him to the attention of artistic directors and theatregoers across Canada. The following year, his growing reputation for avant-garde experimentation expanded beyond Canada's borders with his internationally acclaimed work The Dragon's Trilogy.
In 1986, Lepage's first solo piece, Vinci, was another global success and, in the late 1980s, his place among the movers and shakers of contemporary world theatre was confirmed with The Polygraph and Tectonic Plates.Eager for a fresh theatrical challenge, Lepage agreed in 1989 to become artistic director of the National Arts Centre's ThéÃ¢tre franÃ§ais in Ottawa, where he remained until 1993. His 1992 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream marked the first time that a North American had directed a play by William Shakespeare at London's Royal National Theatre. That same year, Lepage brought his unique skills to the world of modern opera with superb productions of Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung, the latter of which won the Edinburgh International Critics Award.
Adding more pages to his portfolio, Lepage staged Peter Gabriel's Secret World Tour in 1993, then directed productions of Macbeth and The Tempest in Japanese at the Tokyo Globe Theatre.
In 1994, Lepage both designed and directed a production of Strindberg's A Dream Play in Swedish in Stockholm and later that year, he again broadened his remarkable range by founding the multi-disciplinary Ex Machina company in Quebec City and launching a parallel career as screenwriter and film director.
His first feature film, The Confessional, an intriguingly complex mystery inspired in part by the 1952 filming of Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess in Quebec City, was selected to open the 1995 Cannes Film Festival Directors' Fortnight and was chosen for the Claude Jutra Special Award at the 16th annual Genies.
Subsequent film projects, including an adaptation of The Polygraph and, most recently, Possible Worlds lauded at the 2000 Venice Film Festival have met with even greater critical acclaim. Lepage's third feature, NÃ´, won the CITY-TV Award at the 1998 Toronto International Film Festival.
Lepage is busy with several projects, including his one-man show la face cachée de la lune and a monumental production of the opera La Damnation de Faust, previously presented in Japan, and, more recently, in Paris, France. Approaching his mid-40s, Lepage has to his credit a truly remarkable list of awards and accolades.
In 1986 he was presented with the Creation Award from the Conseil de la culture de Québec for overall artistic achievement. In 1990, France awarded him the title of Chevalier de l'Ordre des arts et des lettres. Four year later, he received both the National Arts Centre Award and the Order of Canada.
In 1995, Lepage was decorated with the Ordre de la Pléide by the Assemblée internationale des parlementaires de langue franÃ§aise. In 1999, then premier Lucien Bouchard named him an officer of the Ordre National du Québec.
Arguably the most daring and innovative individual currently working in Canadian film and theatre, Robert Lepage remains uncompromising in his commitment to pushing the artistic envelope.