In 2018, both men will be mounting their own productions of traditional classics. Umpierrez faces the daunting prospect of directing a Russian masterpiece, Chekhov’s <em>The Seagull</em>, in Russia with local actors. Lepage
is making his long-awaited debut at Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival with a production of <em>Coriolanus</em>. In anticipation of this, he went with Umpierrez to see the same play in New York. Lepage “wasn’t
too interested in the production” but was “impressed with the performances”. Umpierrez wasn’t. “Maybe it’s a generational thing,” adds Lepage. “When you’re 50 you know much more, you have doubts. He’s more affirmative.”
In common, mentor and protégé are multitaskers, within a particular work and in the manner they organize their careers. Umpierrez has found this reassuring: “One thing I’ve found fascinating is the way Robert conceives his rehearsals
and produces his projects. They’re generally global collaborations with people from all over the world. He’s able to work professionally and artistically and collaborate on such a diverse range of projects simultaneously. It reinforces
my own idea that I can work on several things – some take a couple of months, some take years – but they’re all developing at the same time.”
Lepage concurs: “In our early weeks we’d be having conversations and he’d have to go off and attend to this installation in Buenos Aires. I think there are many compartments in his head, working at the same time.”
And they’re both restless travellers. Umpierrez now lives in Madrid, but he has projects in several cities across the world. Global is a word he uses a lot.
Perhaps surprisingly, he doesn’t believe in improvisation; his actors have, in Hamlet’s phrase, to say no more than is set down for them. Lepage, in contrast, believes in actors as “great storytellers. I come up with the basic idea
and situation, and they become responsible for writing it. They know what to do and how to say it, and I leave the actual editing to when the show’s opened or if it’s going to be published.”
“On this,” says Umpierrez, “we have different points of view. But I think Robert’s is absolutely natural and it’s fantastic because it works very well. And maybe in the future I will change. I’m open to that.” And that is what this
mentorship programme is about.
<em>Robert Cushman has been theatre critic of the</em> National Post <em>(Canada) since 1998, and was theatre critic of the</em> Observer <em>(UK) from 1973 to 1984. He is also a broadcaster and performer.</em>