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Honorary degree citation - Robert Lepage

By: Christopher Jackson, November 1999

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you one of Quebec and Canada's most innovative multidisciplinary artists. He is theatre and film director, actor and writer, Monsieur Robert Lepage.

En 1984, Robert Lepage séduit la critique avec la pièce Circulations et remporte pour sa mise en scène le Prix de la meilleure production canadienne, lors de la Quinzaine internationale de théâtre de Québec. L'année suivante, il crée Vinci, un premier spectacle solo qui ravit le public par sa magie scénique qui surprend autant qu'elle émerveille.

Let me try to recreate an image for you: a young man, in a small cheap hotel room, is shaving in front of the mirror and carrying on an imaginary conversation with the mirror image. One side of his faced cleanly shaved, he turns the other profile to the audience. He is da Vinci with his eminently remarkable white beard, who talks back to the actor from the mirror. This was low-tech image making; the mirror image and its paradoxes surface later in highly technological productions, notably in Needles and Opium (1991) and Elsinore (1995 and 1997), inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet, where two film images of Lepage, in profile, face each other as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, while the actor, Lepage, as Hamlet, live on stage, observes.

Le caractère particulier de sa scénographie et son écriture théâtrale, Robert Le page les attribue à la formation qu'il a acquise au Conservatoire d'art dramatique de Québec et à un homme de théâtre, Alain Knapp, auprès de qui il a suivi un stage d'études à Pari. et qui l'a poussé à exploiter à fond la singularité de son approche multidisciplinaire.

Artists besides da Vinci have been central to other plays: Needles and Opium creates the link between Miles Davis, the American musician, and Jean Cocteau, the French writer. A more recent play, Geometry of Miracles, is a non-linear exploration of the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Through these diverse individuals, Lepage questions the creative process, the ambiguities, anxieties and spiritual pleasures of an artistic practice.

The list of Lepage's theatre productions is extensive: The Polygraph, Tectonic Plates, The Dragon Trilogy, and The Seven Streams of the River Ota, to name a few others. The success of The Dragon's Trilogy during a ten-year world tour, turned Lepage's Quebec City theatre company from a hometown favourite into a major player on the international theatre circuit. While The Dragon's Trilogy was set almost exclusively on Canadian soil, the following production, The Seven Streams of the River Ota is set nearly everywhere in the world but Canada. It is a theatrical journey through the last 50 years of world history, looking at some of the greatest tragedies - the atom bomb, the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and the AIDS epidemic. It is a baroque fresco of the intertwined stories of some dozen people who land, either literally or figuratively, in Hiroshima. In an interview for the New York Times, Lepage restated the question he was most often asked about Seven Streams: "Why do you make us voyeurs of all these tragic situations?" And he answered: "But that's what theatre is there for. It's the ceremony of life and death and love.. . people go to the theatre not to feel good. They go there to feel."

Nombreuses sont les compagnies théâtrales qui doivent beaucoup à la présence marquante de Robert Lepage. Dans les années 80, il fonde à Québec le Théâtre Hummm, un groupe d'improvisation, ainsi que le Théâtre Repère. Au début des années 90, il est directeur artistique du Théâtre français du Centre national des Arts, à Ottawa. Durant cette période, il livre, à l'opéra, les mises en scène du Château de Barbe-Bleue, de Bela Bartok, et Erwartung, d'Arnold Schoenberg, qui lui valent des éloges unanimes partout dans le monde. Son grand intérêt pour la musique se manifeste également dans des oeuvres contemporaines. En 1993, il signe la conception et la mise en scène de in tournée de la vedette rock Peter Gabriel. En août dernier, il a mis en scène au Japon l'opéra de Berlioz La damnation de Faust sous la direction musicale de Seiji Ozawa, dans le cadre du festival Saito Kinen, à Matsumoto.

Extending his multidisciplinary practice further, Lepage ventured into filmmaking, a logical step, since many of the devices in his theatrical productions were from cinema, or were, literally, films projected on stage. In 1995, he directed Le Confessional, based on the 1950's Hitchcock film, I Confess. For his film, Lepage won three Genie Awards (best film, best producer and best artistic direction), the Claude Jutra Special Award, and several international prizes. He has also produced film versions of his plays The Seven Streams of the River Ota and The Polygraph, and most recently, produced and directed the film NO. Lepage has also acted in front of the camera as Pontius Pilate in Denys Arcand's Jésus de Montréal, one of Québec’s most lauded films. He is presently working on Possible Worlds, his first English language feature film.

Robert Lepage est le directeur artistique du groupe Ex Machina, à Québec, une compagnie de création multidisciplinaire qui maintient des liens virtuels avec d'autres troupes de théâtre partout dans le monde, ouvrant ainsi la porte à une pléiade de collaborations internationales dans le domaine de la production, et ce, bien que les comédiens et les metteurs en scène se trouvent à différents endroits sur la planète.

La remarquable carrière de cet artiste polyvalent, éminemment original, est largement reconnue chez nous et à l'étranger. A titre d'exemples, Robert Lepage a reçu le Prix des arts d'interprétation du Gouverneur général du Canada et a été fait Chevalier de l'Ordre dés Arts et des Lettres par le ministre français de la culture. En juin dernier, le Premier ministre du Québec lui décernait la Médaille des Officiers de l'Ordre national du Québec.

Mr. Chancellor, it is my privilege, and an honour, to present to you, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, Robert Lepage, so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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