Self Isolated Artists' Series
Denise Grant Photography
When I was teaching full time, Friday nights were always my time to unwind after a busy week at school. I looked forward to ‘The Royal Canadian Air Farce’ each week as I loved their lampooning of current events. It was the year that I was on recovery cancer sick leave from work that I really took an interest in ‘Air Farce’ and watched carefully many of the routines of the performers.
I admired Indigenous artist Craig Lauzon’s work on the show, especially in his impersonations of Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper. When I was preparing to review ‘Orlando’ at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre, I saw that Craig was to appear in the production and was most looking forward to seeing it for many reasons. Craig’s appearance was another reason I didn’t want to miss ‘Orlando’.
Craig and I spoke with each other over Zoom.
First, I must say that he is one helluva decent, down to earth guy and I really enjoyed our conversation.
Second, I was also pleased he gently corrected me (and also ribbed me) that I knew him from comedy and then discovered he was an artist with his work in Soulpepper. Craig corrected me by saying that comedy is a form of art, which it truly is, so thank you for that gentle correction and reminder, Craig.
To perform comedy takes a skilled artist as there is a beginning, a middle and a conclusion. Craig has had no formal training but has performed in The Second City Touring Company, taken a weekend workshop in 1992 with Sears & Switzer, and learns from some of the best in the business as you will see in his answers below:
It has been four-five months since we’ve all been in isolation. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during this time?
Well I’ll tell you, I grew a beard (and he has, by the way. Keep the beard, Craig). The first 7 weeks of isolation, I didn’t leave my apartment. I have asthma. Even though advice and information kept changing, word from the experts was if you have asthma you might be more susceptible to the virus. I have a balcony, thank goodness. I was going a bit stir crazy to be honest.
My wife and I decided to rent cars and start going on day trips and drive out somewhere, sometimes to Tweed, somewhere that had a brewery with curb side pick up. We’d buy some beer from a place that we’d never been, drive back, have a couple of beers and discuss the benefits of having a brewery in Perth.
My wife has been handling all of this a little bit better than myself. We both would go to the gym quite a bit, especially her, but when that all went away, I could not get into working out in the apartment. I couldn’t do it. My wife is a voice artist as well, so she had more auditions in the first chunk than she had in awhile which was interesting.
I’ve got the Covid 19, but all in my stomach. (Me too, Craig). My wife has been a blessing for me especially in those first seven weeks where I wasn’t going out. She would go out and do the groceries on her own, pretty much all the stuff on her own. She was my cave canary. I sent her out, she came back, and everything was good.
As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
I love acting, I love being in front of an audience, and I love feeling that reaction from the audience when you’ve got them right there in the palm of your hand. I ran into Nina Lee Aquino when I was getting a coffee the other day. She directed me in ‘The Drawer Boy’ at Passe Muraille where I played Angus. Even though there were some small houses, but at every performance, I could just feel the energy from the audience and they really connected with Angus. It’s that connection with people.
That connection is not the same through the computer screen. When people talk about how people are a little more are brave online, I think that translates into this as well. There’s a bit of a disconnect as you might say or do something that you wouldn’t normally do because people are not right there.
Early on I tried to do a series of monologues from Indigenous playwrights and put them on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. It’s not the same. I just love being in front of people and performing. That was tough. So, the professional challenge is keeping the chops up during this time.
Were you in preparation, rehearsals, or any planning stages of productions before everything was shut down? What has become of those projects? Will they see the light of day anytime soon?
I had some film and television stuff and some theatre things on the go. I was just about to go into rehearsals for another Video Cab show. We were going to do the Cold War and it hadn’t been done since its original presentation. Michael would be directing with Mac Fyfe as Assistant Director, so I was going to play Diefenbaker.
I know you’ve written a profile of Jani Lauzon. We’ve been in talks to doing ‘Where the Blood Mixes’ at Soulpepper. It might still happen, but I don’t know how much in advance they were planning. It would have been fun.
I would love to hope ‘Where the Blood Mixes’ especially with Weyni Mengesha (Artistic Director) at the helm. She’s looking to have strong pieces from playwrights of colour and with Jani directing is a real bonus for it to go ahead. She was on fire just before all of this happened and was directing all these hits before Covid hit.
It’s exciting and I hope ‘Where the Blood Mixes’ finds a place when Soulpepper gets back up and running.
What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
Well, I’m a dad. I have two boys. I share custody with their mom who was living in Barrie and now living in Thornhill so that’s been a bit easier. So, Parenting. And my wife’s family has a beautiful cottage in the Ottawa area, so we’ve gone there a couple of times. I’ve been watching a lot of Australian Rules football, rugby league we’ve a team here in Toronto. And spending time with my wife who is just starting back to work. She works in production so she’s going to start getting busy again. For the last 4-5 months we’ve spent every minute of the day together. It’s been great.
Any words of wisdom or advice you might /could give to fellow performers and colleagues? What message would you deliver to recent theatre school graduates who have now been set free into this unknown and uncertainty given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years?
Just hang in there. This is just now. Tomorrow is something different. It eventually will get back to some sense of normalcy. People keep talking about a new normal, but I don’t know what normal really is, but we’ll get back to a routine of being able to do what we do. And if you’re in my category, just give up and go into Accounting or whatever just so I can get all the gigs. And I’ve been writing. Eric Wolf and I are working on something, but I can’t share with you yet what we’ve been writing.
I’ve been thinking about two things here. Theatre, sometimes, is like church. If people are allowed to return to church, why can’t they return to certain sized theatre? It’s ironic for me to be giving advice to the theatre school graduates since I don’t have the training they have. For what it’s worth from a practical view – find a way to keep training. It’s what I would say to someone regardless. Just because you’ve finished theatre school doesn’t mean you know everything about acting. Keep reading those plays you’ve never had a chance to read. Rehearse monologues and scenes – keep flexing those muscles. Read and memorize as the first thing to go is memory. Keep your brain active – read and memorize.
My training has been practical in soaking things up everywhere and every opportunity I have from working with different people like Jani Lauzon, Lorne Cardinal and Nina Lee Aquino and learning from them as my teachers.
Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19?
Maybe not so much in what we’re doing in terms of career wise or in theatre. As a whole, people, planet, it has made people to quote Ringo Starr – “To stop and smell the roses.”
There was a collision course coming with our planet and what we’ve been doing to her. It’s slowed consumerism, packaging. To help ease in transition of cooking, my wife and I ordered from some of those ‘to your door’ meal prep services. It sounds great, but with all the packaging from the box to the plastic packaging, we stopped ordering because that’s defeating the purpose.
It’s slowing people down and making people take stock which is always a good thing.
Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
Some theatres might say, ‘We’ll play to a half house”, but I don’t know. Some places that normally jammed how many people aren’t going to be able to do that for the foreseeable future. Even when the Spanish flu hit, it’s amazing how far we haven’t come. The big task then was for people to wear masks. People wore masks for two years. Are we ahead of that? Maybe not depending on how strenuous the strain is. This is Covid 19 and there could be Covid 22. They could be coming in more frequently.
The worst thing for this planet is people. For so long people were pushing the planet to the brink. And now she has started to push back and say, “No”. Mother Earth is like ‘Hey, man. Slow down, bro.”
Some artists have turned to YouTube and online streaming to showcase their work. What are your comments and thoughts about streaming? Is this something that the actor/theatre may have to utilize going forward into the unknown?
Well, I’ve watched some and I’ve done some. For me, it’s not any kind of replacement for live theatre. If we’re doing that, then everyone should just move into television because essentially that’s what it is. I get it that people are looking at it as an opportunity to showcase themselves because people are looking for things to watch.
But I worry there’s that thing for Canadian artists and musicians that it’s great for the exposure, but if it’s going to be this way then there has to be something in place for the artist to monetize it. Right now, it’s being pumped out for free as free content and we keep talking with our unions about this to ensure artists are properly and appropriately paid.
Not to sound capitalist, but how can we be assured the artist will be paid appropriately for that online streaming/work because we have our bills to pay, families to feed, and we have to live just like everyone else. CERB ain’t gonna last forever.
Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you?
It’s the desire, there’s a desire to have it, there’s a desire to do it. Theatre has been around the longest. Before cave painting people were re-enacting stuff out. Maybe they were both born from some kind of performative acting/dance. Storytelling is the oldest form of entertainment, not the second oldest. (with a quiet laugh).
There’s a DNA deep desire for it, to want it, and to see it. And for some of us ridiculous folks, to do it. ‘Cause who wants to stand in front of people and do it? It’s ridiculous and yet we do.
As a respectful acknowledgment to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton here are the ten questions he used to ask his guests:
What is your favourite word?
Dad. When I hear my boys call me, “Dad”, I love hearing them call me that all the time. I love being their dad. I get choked up even talking about it.
What is your least favourite word?
Ironically, it’s “Dad” because I didn’t have a great relationship with my father, so growing up that word was full of disdain for me. And “No” is also my least favourite knee-jerk word. So “Dad” and “No” are my two least favourite words.
What turns you on?
Time spent with loved ones. I’m loving this extra time spent with my wife and my kids.
What turns you off?
Prejudice and all that goes with it - negative vibes, racism, that sense of superiority that some people have over other people.
What sound or noise do you love?
Laughter, especially baby’s laughter.
What sound or noise bothers you?
Construction, it’s just nonstop right now.
What’s your favourite curse word? What is your least favourite curse word?
My favourite word because I can only use it sparingly is cunt. My mother’s British. There’s a lot of European people around my family so it doesn’t have the same connotation as it does over here. ‘Cunt’ has the most shock value.
The least favourite curse word: Fag or faggot when it’s used as a putdown.
Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing?
I’d love to be a chef. I love cooking.
What career choice could you not see yourself doing?
I have the utmost respect for the military and police, but I couldn’t see myself doing it
If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
“They’re waiting for you. All your ancestors are there.”
Twitter: @TheCraigLauzon Instagram: craiglauzon