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14 juillet 2008

Robert Lepage's 'uncareer' in writing is proof

by Jian Ghomeshi, National Post

A mammal with a plan isn't everything

Robert Lepage's 'uncareer' in writing is proof

Our country has gotten itself into a right kerfuffle over the latest Order of Canada recipients, but that's nothing compared to what's to come. To recap, some of our compatriots don't think Dr. Henry Morgentaler should be receiving the honour (of course he hould). Others think Don Cherry should be considered for the honour (of course he should). And no one is quibbling with Peter Mansbridge getting the honour (of course they shouldn't). But imagine the outcry once the nation digests the idea that previous OC inductee Robert Lepage doesn't have a career. The shame!

Robert Lepage was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1994. That was quite an achievement for the 36-year-old, but also not surprising. Lepage is a prolific and wildly imaginative playwright, actor and film director who merits the term "national treasure." He has staged celebrated productions around the world and at our National Arts Centre and Canadian Opera Company. He has acted in films ranging from Jesus de Montreal to Far Side of the Moon (which he also directed). He designed the stunningly innovative world tours for his bud Peter Gabriel in 1993-94 and 2003-04, and last year was awarded the European Commission's Europe Theatre Prize.

This summer, Lepage is launching two new productions in London's West End, beginning with the inspired adaptation of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress that opened last week at the Royal Opera House. Lest anyone wonder how he spends all of his free time amidst helming two important new shows, he's also presided over a spectacular outdoor tribute to his hometown for Quebec's 400th anniversary. The installation, Le Moulin a images ( The Image Mill), harnesses grain silos in the Port of Quebec each evening to create an immense projection screen.

So the kid's all right, right? Surely all of this makes for a career fit for the Order of Canada? Well, not according to Lepage. "I don't have a career," he tells me in an interview in London on the very day of Quebec City's birthday and his final preview for The Rake. I pause.

"What do you mean you don't have a career?"

"I mean I don't have a career. I don't have agents and managers. I don't have a plan."

My face is communicating confusion. How does this ridiculously prolific and successful mammal not have a plan? He explains that he works only on projects that he is passionate about. He says he has always been that way. He tells me he has had tremendous successes and dismal flops and he embraces them all because they each have contributed to who and what he is.

I start to understand. Though I've been wowed by so much of Lepage's work, this is perhaps the moment in which he has most inspired me. Lepage is an example of the artist who fears not confronting untried, risky ideas and projects, but rather, the notion of ever doing anything other than what he creatively desires. And let this not be a prescription reserved only for artsy types. Lepage is a breathing example of following one's passion and ignoring any preoccupation with a planned career trajectory. The fact that he's achieved international accolades might suggest that it's not such a bad idea.

In an economy that makes the linear vocational path all but impossible (especially in the arts, entertainment, cultural or media fields) maybe that old romantic idea of following your passion is actually the shrewdest ticket. It can lead to the Order of Canada. Mind you, do we give those out to people without careers? Discuss.

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