Patricia Cano is a Canadian actor and singer who has performed around the world in a range of languages. Her artistic collaborations with Tomson Highway have produced a range of works, most recently in Toronto where the two performed in Highway’s The (Post) Mistress , a one-woman cabaret-style musical that put Cano’s charisma and talent centre-stage, earning her a nomination for Outstanding Performance in a Musical. Showing off her gorgeous singing voice while giving a rambunctious and very endearing performance as Marie-Louise Pinchaud, the angelic post-mistress for the fictional town of Loving, Ontario, Cano presented herself as a theatre performer who effortlessly sends her joy out into the audience.
Do you remember your first experience with theatre?
It was at the Sudbury Theatre Centre (Sudbury, ON), and the play was Annie. This was my favorite movie at the time – as in I was ‘obsessiva exaggerata’ over this movie – and so, when I saw kids my own age on stage, acting out the parts, dancing the choreography, and singing the songs from MY favorite movie, I was perfectly and utterly floored! Thing is, I knew that kids could take part in dance recitals, because I did dance recitals, but dance, sing AND act on stage? It was news to me. Floored, I tell ya!
When did you know you wanted to be a performer?
I started dancing when I was 4 years old (started with ballet, followed by modern and jazz) and I slightly/fanatically admired the “older girls” at the dance studio because of how they made me feel when I watched them on stage. I was transported by the music, mesmerized by the bodies moving through the light, and stirred by their expressivity. Some girls stood out, of course. Dancers like Heidi Strauss, Sunshine Horvath, and Stephanie Thompson, for example, were stage goddesses to me (we were all students at the Sudbury School of Dance), and from as early as I can remember, I wanted to be and dance like them. I aspired to perform and transport people through movement, music, and light…like them. Therefore, I have known I wanted to be a performer [like them] for as long as I can remember.
What attracted you to the role in (Post) Mistress?
Tomson Highway did. First, he wrote the songs and invited me to premiere them by his side. The script came later. When he finished writing it, he sent it to me and said something to the effect that he hoped the role would take me across Canada. And it has, for which I am grateful.
You and Tomson Highway have been performing this piece for a while now. How has the play changed over its various iterations? How would you say your performance has changed?
Every director encourages new exploration into the character of Marie-Louise Painchaud. In the beginning, it almost always feels counter-intuitive, on account of my brain and my body remembering what the last production felt like. However, once I manage to let go of the past, which usually (!) doesn’t take too long to do, I am grateful for being steered in a new direction. Revisiting the character of Marie-Louise Painchaud again and again allows me to remember her/feel close to her, and then, with the help of a different director, choreographer, set and costume designer, and sometimes even a new musical director, I am able to let the old MLP go and discover her anew. This process has been incredibly informative, therefore I feel like my performance is much improved, more textured each time. Also, I am getting older. MLP is older than me by 10 years now, whereas when I started performing the role, she had almost 16 years on me. The difference in life experience on my end is great; I have a five year old now, and I have weathered family, professional and love storms over time and, thankfully, come out the other end more informed, more resilient, albeit with more laugh lines! So, yeah… aging has helped me play the role better.
*minor spoilers* Marie-Louise is an angel of multiple stripes – – guardian angel, vengeful angel, romantic angel. She says she’s motivated by love and the love experienced by others, but clearly has a lot of things going on underneath that. Do you think she truly loves the part she plays in this heavenly post office? Do you think she was a different person when she was alive?
I think the love she feels for her husband, children, and fellow villagers is limitless. Marie-Louise takes great pride, in life as in death, in serving the people, and the village, that she loves with complete dedication. That being said, when she was alive, she was not immune to disappointment or frustration, or even prejudice, as none of us are. Even in death, she still feels the occasional sting of the past, but there is perspective gained. And with that perspective, Marie-Louise taps into the well of pure joy and love that is her heart. That’s what I think, anyway.
You speak multiple languages in the show – English, French and Cree. And the production itself was presented in one block of primarily English-speaking performances, and one block of primarily French-speaking performances, and there is also a primarily Cree-spoken version of the play. Do you find audiences respond differently depending on which language is predominant?
Audiences respond differently to different parts of the play depending on which language is predominant, for sure! For example, the French audiences were moved to tears by Marie-Louise’s storytelling earlier on in the play than were English audiences, maybe because she was funnier, more touching, in French. I mean, I think Marie-Louise is funnier in French because Tomson Highway wrote about a Franco-Ontarian woman. That is who she is. In English, she is also funny and moving, definitely, but different. She changes in translation, and therefore the response to her changes too.
Note: I have never performed the mainly Cree script.
Do you have ambitions to perform more theatrical work in Cree?
If Tomson asked me to perform a role in Cree from one of his plays, of course I would jump at the chance and accept the challenge. Learning new languages is one of the greatest pleasures of my life. In fact, living, laughing, crying, and loving in different languages is what has made my life the awesome ride that it is today. But, specific ambitions to perform more theatrical works in Cree? No. Theatre work in general is what I am hoping for, in any language. More chances to work with exceptional theatre people and companies here in Toronto, for example, would be great. Being a working mom is making me long for contracts nearer to home. Travel is wonderful, but it can, and does, get tricky.
Obviously your collaborations with Highway go back a long time, but can you talk specifically about working with him as a pianist and musician?
Tomson is a very thoughtful musician to perform with because he listens and plays the way a fellow actor on stage would listen and play. He is reactive and ever-present. He listens so intently, in fact, that he has, on occasion, lost his place on account of breaking into uncontrollable laughter along with the audience (and me too, ha!). Beyond his sensitivity, all I can say is that working with Tomson Highway, pianist and musician, is a distinct pleasure and honour. When he entrusts me with a new song, a new story to tell, I feel like the luckiest performer alive. Also, it is always a joyous sort of affair because the man is particularly, profoundly, full of love to give.
Did you have a favourite moment in the production?
The tango at the top of Act 2 is delicious to perform, but the Cree prayer in “Some Say a Rose“ transports the audience and I to some place so far away, so intimate, together.
I’m sorry but there are too many favourite moments.
What are you working on now or next?
My sophomore album, MADRE | AMIGA | HERMANA, is days away from being printed and pressed, with an official launch scheduled for the fall.
April 19th, 2017 – Koerner Hall debut with my quintet! Sharing the night with a Grammy award-winning band from Colombia called Monsieur Periné!
April 21st, 2017 – European tour (3 weeks) with the Tomson Highway Trio, performing Cree Cabaret with Tomson at the piano and the elegant Marcus Ali on sax.
May 12th, 2017 – Koerner Hall (again!) with Tomson Highway and Marcus Ali.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
Hope to see you all at Koerner Hall, on April 19th and again on May 12th!
Also, thank you very much for your time.