Stage Door Review
Tuesday, November 14, 2023
by Jani Lauzon, directed by Franco Boni
Paper Canoe Projects, Grand Theatre, Fergus
January 21, 2023;
Coal Mine Theatre, 2076 Danforth Avenue, Toronto
November 12-December 10, 2023
“We come from the stars, we are star people”
Jani Lauzon’s Paper Canoe Projects has launched a tour of her performance piece Prophecy Fog that will visit towns in Ontario throughout January and February. In March it will head off to BC and then the Yukon. The piece is impossible to categorize. It combines autobiography, history, myth, movement, song and ritual. For those who are not Indigenous Canadians, only 75 minutes in Lauzon’s presence will change the way you think or at least provide a glimpse into how First Nations people view the world. This is a precious gift and those who attend Prophecy Fog will be deeply grateful that Lauzon has created such an enlightening experience.
Prophecy Fog is an intimate work. At the Grand Theatre in Fergus, Ontario, where I saw it, on the stage there were alternating chairs and floor pillows for only 17 audience members. These were arranged in a circle around a round woven carpet where Lauzon stood and swayed as if in a trance. Around the carpet and inside the ring of seats were all manner of stones – some on the floor, some in wooden bowls of various sizes. Overhead was a narrow circular screen about the same width as the circle of seating. Projections of clouds morph into other scenes and even excerpts of documentaries, all linked to Lauzon’s topics.
Lauzon begins by commenting, “How good it is to feel the power of the earth rising up through your feet”. This immediately establishes the connection between people and the earth that the show explores. Lauzon may surprise some by picking up a stone and saying that “Stones are alive”. Stones all have stories to tell and it is by rubbing them until they are warm that you can hear the story they have to tell. She does this with various stones and reports on what she has learned. She includes us in her circle by placing stones around the circle of seats.
Lauzon tells us she has always collected stones and shares with us some of her most treasured stones. Some are precious because of who gave them to her, some for their colour, some for a perceived image.
The central focus for her story is the Great Stone as the Native people call it or the Giant Rock as the settlers call it. This is a boulder of igneous rock in the Mojave Desert, possibly 136 millions years old, seven storeys tall, 25,000 tons or more and covering about 5,800 square feet. The Rock is rumoured to be the largest free-standing boulder in the world. The Indigenous people of the Mojave, the Serrano and Chemehuevi used to conduct spiritual ceremonies at the Rock during which only the chief was permitted to touch the Rock.
The first White man to “discover” the Rock was Frank M. Critzer in 1931. He viewed the Rock as a powerhouse of electricity and built a home for himself by tunnelling underneath the Rock. By 1942 the eccentric Crizer came to be viewed as a Nazi spy and died in a confrontation with local deputies.
George W. Van Tassel, who became a friend of Crizer’s, was drawn to the Rock’s power and obtained a permit to the public land where the Rock was situated where he built a motel, an airstrip and a café. The Rock became a magnet for New Agers and ufologists of all sorts. Van Tassel came to believe that the Rock was a conduit for telepathic message from the people of Venus. He later claimed to have been abducted by the Venusians, who guided his building in 1959 of a round structure three miles from the Rock called the Integratron. An interview with Van Tassel discussing his abduction is one of the documentary excerpts projected onto the circular screen above the audience.
A longtime lover of stones, Lauzon and her daughter made a journey to visit the Rock. There Lauzon experienced it not just as a centre of energy but as a compendium of stories. Open-minded as she is, Lauzon also visited the Integratron which, she found has such exquisite acoustics that she and her daughter sang and danced there for hours.
As a Métis, Lauzon says one side of her family are homesteaders, one side Indigenous, and she recognizes she is a product of both. Lauzon makes no judgement of Crizer and Van Tassel. Odd as the two may have been, they each invited Native people back to the site. Her criticism is aimed at the “homesteaders” who cleared the Indigenous people of the land away from their centre of worship.
Lauzon does not say so, but her juxtaposition of her love of living stones with Crizer and Van Tassel’s recognition of the specialness of the Giant Rock is telling. She seems to suggest that these two White men using the only mental tools they had, i.e., science or pseudo-science, at least tried to engage with the Rock to understand it, whereas a Native person who believes that all stones are alive need not recur to science to explain how a stone can communicate with human beings.
On February 21, 2000, the Giant Rock suddenly split, perhaps in response to an earthquake, revealing a pristine white granite surface. Soon enough this surface was defaced with graffiti of the most hateful kind – swastikas and slogans against women, gays and Black people. Ancient pictographs made by Indigenous people were also defaced. Her question is “Can a site still be sacred if it has been desecrated?”
By the time Lauzon has reached this question and the screen has shown us the disgusting graffiti, Lauzon has emptied most of the bowls of their stones and spread them around her on the floor. She has told us that the stones on the earth correspond to the stars in the sky. Lauzon has had us demonstrate with stones where Ursa Major is in the night sky. Lauzon has told us an Indigenous creation story about how the Sky Woman came to live upon the earth and created the stars from the dust of the earth. Lauzon says she found a note among her mother’s belongings after her death that stated “We come from the stars, we are star people”. By this time we have hummed a drone to Lauzon’s lovely singing. We have heard Lauzon play quartz crystal singing bowls – inanimate objects that make music when touched.
Thus, by the time she shows us how the Giant Rock split and how it was defaced, she has already demonstrated that there is a power within people and a connection between people and the earth and the sky that no mere layer of paint can subvert. Again, Lauzon never explicitly states this. She doesn’t have to. She has created her show in order that we experience a different way of looking at the world and a different way of viewing our place within it so that we know what the answer to her question is without prompting.
In Prophecy Fog Lauzon gleams with humility and graciousness. By the end we feel there is no adequate way to thank Lauzon for the insight she has given us. Simply put, Prophecy Fog is a mind-expanding experience that no one should miss.
Photos: Jani Lauzon in Prophecy Fog. © 2019 Dahlia Katz.
For tickets visit www.coalminetheatre.com/prophecy-fog