Self Isolated Artist
It has been an honour for Our Theatre Voice/OnStage Blog to have reviewed incredibly poignant productions either written or directed by Indigenous artist Jani Lauzon. I had the opportunity to review what I thought was a taut but bloody production of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ in which she performed.
Along with the black lives voices that are strongly being heard and listened, the Indigenous artist voices must also be given equitable and due respect both in hearing and listening with regard to changes in national theatre.
It was in June at the Stratford Festival where Jani had taken the lead in organizing and moderating the “Ndo-Mshkogaabwimi” panel entitled “Ndo-Mshkogaabwimi — We Are Standing Strong: Stories of endurance, resilience and resistance from members of the Indigenous circle at Stratford.” I did get to hear some of the panel discussion as I did the week earlier at the Festival with some black artists.
June was a month for Canadian national theatre where I recalled a line from Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ where Linda Loman tells her sons: “Attention must be paid.”
The time is right and long overdue not only to pay attention but also to listen and to hear.
Jani, how have you been faring during this seemingly never-ending pandemic for the isolated artist? How has your immediate family been doing during this time?
I am blessed in that my daughter and her girlfriend have moved into my home in Toronto. We are pooling resources, cooking for one another, and supporting each other emotionally and spiritually. I am used to being on my own and have a strong spiritual practice and my sage and tobacco, so I am also surrounded by medicine, but I suspect that I would not be as strong and grounded as I am now without the companionship I have at the moment.
That being said, there are days when I feel a negotiation with despondency.
As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
When I was little my mother told me that when you hug someone, it creates electromagnetic energy that helps the world rotate on its axis. I think what she meant by that was the power that relationship brings.
Navigating relationship is an action. It can be very powerful. Double that with actors navigating with actors (and directors etc) and characters navigating with characters. That’s a whole lot of magic that permeates the room. I miss that magic, that feeling that we are doing something together.
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?
My play, ‘I Call myself Princess’, was running at the Globe Theatre in Regina. We were heading into an almost sold out final week. And boom. I loved working at the Globe and having the opportunity to direct my own work, which can be a good or bad idea. In my case, it worked out well. I still plan to connect Artistic Directors to the archival but am fully aware that theatre will not resume any time soon and, when it does, there will be a long list of projects that are waiting in a well-deserved queue.
I was also heading to Stratford to act in ‘The Rez Sisters’. This would have been the 2nd Indigenous written and directed production at Stratford in its entire history. ENTIRE HISTORY. Just need to capitalize on that. I have been told that Stratford is committed to the production. Whether I will be available for it or not when they do decide to produce is a bigger question.
What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
I digitized all my old VHS tapes. I am doing the same for my HI8, DVC, and cassette tapes. I have also been doing a lot of beading which keeps my hands busy. And writing of course. I have 2 plays on the go. One is a co-write with the fabulous Kaitlyn Riordan called ‘1939’. The other is in the research phase.
I suppose the biggest thing I am involved in right now is advocacy work. Funny that. After almost 30 years of advocating for inclusion and getting tired of the tiny baby steps that we were able to accomplish I decided that I wanted to concentrate on my work. And then my work was taken away and I am back, fully engaged in advocacy work.
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?
My daughter, Tara Sky, is one of those recent grads having graduated from NTS in May 2019. She was also going to be at Stratford this season. She was loving the work and so honoured to be cast as Tiger Lily in ‘Wendy and Peter’. The great thing about my daughter is that although she goes through days when she shares in the collective despondency, she is finding ways to keep herself afloat.
My naturopath, a brilliant healer, gave me advice that I passed on to Tara and would say the same to anyone, get your tool kit ready. I know that feels redundant having just come out of school but now is the time to focus your mind, body, and spirit as well as your marketing tools.
Create your own demo reel, read as many plays as you can, watch what you can on-line, research actors who have come before you, read biographies. Be ready. When this opens up again, in whatever shape that takes, you don’t want to be scrambling. There is great power in silence and stillness. Much can be accomplished with visualization and clarity of thought.
Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID 19?
My hope is that we crave returning to the power of relationship. And of course, the ability to listen, learn and hear.
Do you think COVID 19 will have some lasting impact on the Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
Absolutely. There has been a big shift towards artists finding creative expression using a variety of mediums. We are now accessing work in a different way and more content to experience different forms of expression. For the majority of us, faced with desperate financial circumstances, we are doing whatever we can to remain connected to our artistic selves and to find ways of expressing that energy.
My biggest hope is that society will cherish the return to the communal experience of live theatre in a way that was forgotten. And that the artist in society will again be valued. After all, it is the artists that the world have turned to.
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?
I am one of many, I suspect, that have not felt compelled to add to the saturation of the medium. But I have enjoyed watching the work of others. My daughter and I were involved in a project with Urban Vessel called ‘The Homing Project’ which allowed us to collaborate together, combining our film, poetry, music, and editing skills together. That was an amazing experience.
My only word of advice would be that quantity does not trump quality. One small project that has a profound impact can be of greater value than a series created not for the art itself but for the purpose of marketing a career. I can see, experience, and taste the difference. And of course, I am laughing because I say this in the era of YouTube celebrities that have a different agenda which has served them well.
Perhaps the key to it is to be clear about two things: are you having fun doing in and does it bring you joy? Secondly, what is your hopeful outcome?
Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that COVID will never destroy for you?
I will always think like an artist. I will always live my life creatively. No one can take that away from me.
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:
1. What is your favourite word?
It’s a tie:
In Anishinaabemowin the word “Ahneen” or “Aaniin” is a greeting, like hello. But in English it is an empty greeting. A deeper translation of Aaniin would be, “I see the light in you”. It’s a different way to greet someone. To acknowledge them, truly, in spirit and body.
And my second favorite work is “sonder” which means, The realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own.
2. What is your least favourite word?
3. What turns you on?
4. What turns you off?
Assumption of superiority
5. What sound or noise do you love?
Bass. It’s my favorite instrument. That and the oboe. That having been said, I am awake every morning with the birds.
6. What sound or noise bothers you?
Construction. A necessary thing but really? 7 am?
7. What is your favourite curse word? What is your least favourite curse word?
Fuck and Fuck
8. Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing?
I already have several. Actor, Director, Musician, Puppeteer, Artist Educator, Writer, Arts Administrator. What I regret was not having time to learn the medicines. Herbology I guess you would call it and wilderness survival.
9. What career choice could you not see yourself doing?
10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
I have my own kind of spirituality. I know it exists. And my focus has always been to bring that feeling of “heaven” to this earth. I figure…why wait?