Lepage happy to stay on Earth while he takes audiences to the Moon

October 31, 2012, Mark Leiren-Young, The Vancouver Sun

Robert Lepage doesn’t really want to go to the moon.

His friend did — for real. In 2009, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte became one of the first private citizens on the planet to write a cheque for thirty million dollars to hop a ride on a Russian rocket.

In a phone interview with The Vancouver Sun from his office in Quebec, the writer, director and occasional star of Far Side of the Moon says that even if he had $30 million to spare, he wouldn’t spend it on a trip to outer space. “I could be offered to go free and I wouldn’t go — that’s how chicken I am. You really have to be fearless, I guess.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking of Canada’s most acclaimed theatre artist as anything less than fearless. As a writer, director and innovator, Lepage has created a new theatrical vocabulary and a language of movement and imagery to go along with it.

Far Side of the Moon — which some critics consider his masterpiece — began life in 2000 as a deeply personal solo show about a man coping with the loss of his mother and dreaming of the loneliness of the Soviet space program. The show’s score was created by Laurie Anderson — who became NASA’s first artist in residence.

In the numerous reimaginings, remounts and restagings, which have received enough awards and accolades to fill the rest of this page, Lepage stepped out of the role, handing it over to Yves Jacques. Lepage hasn’t performed the part since 2007. But the not-so-chicken performer will step back on stage Nov. 6 — midway through the Vancouver run — because his star was offered a leading role in the epic French film Grace of Monaco.

Asked how the show has evolved since its debut, Lepage says, “I think the show is more economical; it’s better written and a lot of redundancies, a lot of old skin has been shed. It’s more universal, it has lost a lot of its ugly braces and push-up bras.”

The last time Lepage performed the show was in Moscow in 2007, where a Chekhov festival had declared “Robert Lepage Month” and the cosmonaut who inspired part of the play was going to be in attendance. “I had the chance to perform it myself or to ask Yves to do it. We knew that on the night of the opening Alexei Leonov was going to be there and it’s all about my admiration for the Russian space program.” So Lepage briefly returned to the moon.

After the show, Leonov, the first man to ever walk in space (in 1965) presented Lepage with a bottle of vodka sculpted in wood that was on one of the original Soviet space missions.

Asked about performing in Vancouver, Lepage says every so often he runs into someone who saw him during his first West Coast appearance at the Firehall Theatre with his show Circulations, back in 1984 and he’ll say, “You’re the one.” Lepage laughs as he recalls doing the show for audiences of two — and still being thrilled because he’d always wanted to spend time in Vancouver.

When Far Side of the Moon touches down it’s a safe bet that not only won’t there be any two-person houses, it’s unlikely there will be two empty seats.

Even though he’s not willing to visit the moon, Lepage is always game to test his limits on this planet. A few years ago he agreed to join a dance show — Eonnagata — as a dancer, just after turning 50, even though he had never danced professionally. “I had to lose 35 pounds for four years of my life,” says Lepage. “It was an extraordinary challenge and a big life changer.”

More recently, Lepage set himself another challenge. Over the last few years he became obsessed with Guitar Hero. After learning the imaginary guitar, Lepage decided he’d try to conquer the real life keyboard. “I abandoned my Guitar Hero and for the last two years I’ve been learning to play keyboard. I don’t know if I’ll have the courage to do that in a future show, but it kind of gives me a hint I should explore that a bit more.” He may not be willing to become a real-life cosmonaut, but it’s hard to believe the man on the moon won’t have the courage to try the keyboard on stage sometime soon.