Given the incendiary nature of Robert Lepage's theatrical ideas - his new production of Wagner's Ring cycle for New York's Metropolitan Opera is partly staged inside rings of fire - it should come as no surprise that the Canadian mastermind chose a 19th-century former firehall for his Quebec City headquarters. "It's a Second-Empire-style building that we refurbished into a working space, a theatre lab and a production centre," says Lepage, who is currently at work on a new production of Shakespeare's The Tempest to be staged at Wendake, near the Quebec capital, in July.
Pictured here, his office is upstairs in the former hayloft, where the hay that fed the horses that pulled the old fire trucks was kept. "It's probably the quietest place in the whole building," he says, adding that it's at a remove from the frenetic activity of his Ex Machina company on the floors below. "It's a great place to concentrate or meditate when I'm not with them."
The Japanese face painting:Lepage is a great admirer of ancient Japanese theatre techniques and his office is filled with books and documents dedicated to kabuki, a highly stylized form of dance-drama known for the elaborate makeup worn by its performers. "I spent a lot of my creative work in the 1990s in Japan and there's a huge collection of stuff that I brought back in the office," Lepage says. "Besides bunraku dolls and puppets, there's a lot of these makeup guides in frames. I am very, very fascinated by the kabuki aesthetic, and these little frames show how to do the makeup for the different characters."
The windows: "These were added," Lepage says. "The tall ones give a view over the terrace. The room is a very different environment in the summer, when we open these windows because a lot of our life here takes place out on that terrace. People use it to eat outside, take breaks. It's really a gathering place."
The exposed beams: Original to the building, the wood beams were left intact during an extensive 17-month renovation of the interior in 1997. "We tried to give [the building]an authentic look; we wanted to see its architecture, its structure," Lepage says. "The building is part of that square kilometre of Quebec City that contains some of the oldest, let's say, European landmarks in North America, so it was important that whatever refurbishing or re-tweaking of the building we did referred to its past."
The door with window: "This golden door with a round window has a view onto a small greenhouse where we've been trying to keep things alive, but it's tricky," Lepage says. "Quebec City winters are very cold and through the window you can see tropical plants trying to survive minus-25-degree environments. It's quite a challenge to keep that greenhouse green."
The black sofa: A prop used for The Seven Streams of the River Ota, a 1994 multidisciplinary production and the first show Lepage created with his Ex Machina company, the couch is today where many a creative meeting takes place. "Like most of the stuff in the building, it's a direct inheritance from one of my productions," Lepage says. "When you're counting your pennies and wanting to put the money of the company into more creative projects, you are often sitting on props or using bits of furniture that were part of another show."
The glass table: "The large glass table is actually a work of art," Lepage says. "It was commissioned from Luc Archambault, who's a famous painter in Quebec City and who also makes furniture; the table's legs reflect a Japanese aesthetic, too. They're almost origami."