TORONTO - Less than a dozen hours after learning that he was the next winner of the prestigious Glenn Gould Prize, Quebec theatre maverick Robert Lepage was already musing on the ways the honour might change his life.
"For some reason ... I still see myself as a young and struggling artist, trying to make my point," said the renowned 55-year-old director, playwright and actor in a telephone interview from Quebec City Thursday.
"So suddenly, you go ... 'Well, maybe I did accomplish something in some way.' And certainly (it) kind of makes me reflect about the maturity of the work or if there's something people can learn from.
"Maybe I'm at that point where I could have the pretension to give master classes or give conferences in universities," he added, joking that he's experiencing a "mid-life crisis."
"It's a kind of confirmation ... that I find quite moving."
Lepage indeed joins an extremely select group of laureates for the $50,000 international prize, a now biennial honour first handed out to Canadian composer and environmentalist R. Murray Schafer back in 1987.
Other winners have included Montreal jazz giant Oscar Peterson (1993), Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu ('96) and, most recently, Canadian folk poet Leonard Cohen in 2011.
Lepage said he was particularly honoured in light of the sterling cross-disciplinary jury who made the decision after long deliberations Wednesday night in Toronto.
That group included punk pioneer Patti Smith, filmmaker Deepa Mehta, noted record producer Bob Ezrin and author John Ralston Saul, who took special care during a press conference in Toronto on Thursday to point out that Lepage's career is still flourishing even as he receives this honour for lifetime contribution to the arts.
"Here's somebody who, in half his life, has done more than most people could ever dream of doing," Saul said.
Lepage is known worldwide for his wildly inventive, visually innovative performing arts productions, including an ambitious version of Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle at the Metropolitan Opera.
The founder of multidisciplinary production company Ex Machina has also helmed celebrated Cirque du Soleil productions, he directed the 1995 mystery film "Le Confessionnal" (which earned Genie Awards for best motion picture and best director) and he was stage director for Peter Gabriel's "Secret World Tour" in 1993, which provided Ezrin's introduction to Lepage's unique work.
"It blew my mind," said the Toronto producer, best-known for his collaborations with Pink Floyd, Kiss and Alice Cooper. "I've known Peter for 100 years and seen all of his stage presentations, but that one ... was so innovative."
He became a fan of Lepage from that point on — "whenever I happen to be somewhere where there's a Lepage performance, I'm there," Ezrin enthused — and even drew comparisons between the Glenn Gould Prize's latest laureate and the late gifted pianist who inspired the honour.
"Robert is always looking for a different way of expressing feeling and emotion and thought, and so was Glenn, all the time, looking for a new, different way," Ezrin said.
"So I think they're both innovators, they're both significant risk takers, and they led with their chin, both of them. They were totally unafraid."
Mehta, meanwhile, had just been discussing Lepage's merits with a friend last week in New Dehli, where his nine-hour saga "Lipsynch" was to be staged.
She said that while the jury deliberations featured fierce debate, they were eventually unanimous in their support of Lepage.
"Lepage is the way Glenn Gould was — he's very particular and yet very universal," said Mehta, the Genie-winning director of "Water" and most recently, "Midnight's Children."
"When you look at (Lepage's) career and what he's done ... here is a person who's like an explorer, an explorer of the soul. And he does everything. He wants to explore every aspect of his unrealized potential."
Although Lepage has received no shortage of lofty honours — including a Governor General's Performing Arts Award and a distinction as an Officer of the Order of Canada and of the National Order of Quebec — he says he was both shocked and genuinely moved by the Glenn Gould Prize recognition.
He was at such a loss for words Thursday, he joked that his "English floppy disk has not been inserted correctly."
"It is really a great honour," he said. "What feels really good about it is the fact that it's about innovation and taking risks. It's a really good slap on the back to continue doing the kind of work I do and to continue to take risks and try stuff.
"I'm really extremely moved by the whole thing."