Métis actor wins ACTRA Toronto Award of Excellence

·4 min read

One of Jani Lauzon’s previous responsibilities was helping to select the annual winner of a prestigious award.

But the tables have turned. The 61-year-old Métis actor is the 2021 recipient of the ACTRA Toronto Award of Excellence.

During the years she had a role in choosing the award winner, Lauzon, who was born in Kimberley, B.C. but has lived in Toronto since 1977, never envisioned she would one day be presented with the award herself.

“I never actually thought that, because the list of people is so friggin’ incredible,” she said.

Lauzon had been told she was in the running for the award the past couple of years, but because she was ACTRA Toronto's diversity advocate, a position she no longer holds, she was ineligible to win it.

The 2020 winner was Jean Yoon, who plays the mother in the hit sitcom Kim’s Convenience.

Renowned actor Jayne Eastwood was the 2019 recipient.

Previous Indigenous recipients include Jennifer Podemski and Tantoo Cardinal. Podemski, of Ojibwe and Saulteaux ancestry, won the award in 2018, while Cardinal, who is Métis /Cree, received her award in 2014.

“To be part of this legacy of the folks that have come before me, I’m really just blown away by the recognition and the honour,” Lauzon said.

The ACTRA Toronto Award of Excellence is annually presented to an individual that is recognized for their significant amount of work in the industry and who has also shown a great commitment to advocacy on behalf of other performers.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, an in-person awards ceremony will not be staged this year. Instead, Lauzon will officially be presented with her accolade in a virtual event scheduled for Feb. 21.

The ceremony will also include presentations to award winners in the following categories; outstanding female, male, female voice and male voice. A stunt award and series ensemble award will also be presented.

ACTRA is the national union for professional performers who work in recorded media. It includes about 27,000 members. ACTRA Toronto, which features about 15,000 of those members, is the largest organization within ACTRA.

ACTRA has been an advocate for professional performers in Canada since 1943.

Besides being an actor, Lauzon is also an award-winning puppeteer, a singer/songwriter who has released three albums, a director and filmmaker.

Lauzon was especially thrilled to win her award because many others have a greater amount of on-screen credits while her resume includes tons of puppetry work.

Children’s shows she’s worked on include Mr. Dressup and The Big Comfy Couch.

“Puppetry isn’t often considered a prestigious type of career,” she said. “I’ve always considered it an honour to work for children.”

Lauzon’s previous TV work includes appearances on the series Saving Hope. Her movie career includes a role in the 2010 film called A Windigo Tale.

Lauzon has also done plenty of advocacy work for her industry for more than 20 years. Besides being a former chair of ACTRA Toronto's diversity committee, she has served on numerous advisory boards for both ACTRA and ACTRA Toronto during the past couple of decades.

“The advocacy work really started for me as I had some spare time,” Lauzon said. “The work I’ve done was to try to change people’s minds and to be at the table.”

Being Métis, Lauzon said she did have some challenges early on in her career.

Instead of having an acting file with her own name on it, Lauzon said her agency simply lumped her into a group with others who were not white.

“I was in the ethnic file,” she said. “It was a different time in the early ‘80s when I started to pursue it. I’m mixed. I’m pretty brown. In my early career nobody knew what to do with me.”

Lauzon’s biological father was Métis while her biological mother had Swedish and Finnish ancestry.

Both of Lauzon’s biological parents were creative types as they were artists and musicians.

Lauzon, who was orphaned at age 13 when her mother died, moved in with foster parents. Her foster father was a high school drama teacher, which further cemented her desire to become a performer.

Lauzon opted to move to Toronto in the late ‘70s as she felt that’s where the majority of creative individuals went in search of work.

Throughout her career Lauzon directed various productions at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company and The Shaw Festival Theatre, located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Lauzon has also served as the associate director for the acting program at the National Theatre School of Canada since this past September.

Her daughter Tara Sky, who is also an actor, is a graduate of the school.

Lauzon founded her own theatre company, Paper Canoe Projects, in 2010. Her daughter assists with company productions now.

Windspeaker.com

By Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com