This play shows why explicitly feminist art is more important than ever
Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava's Mouthpiece is a journey into the female psyche
When Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava began work on Mouthpiece in 2012, they were clear on two things. They wanted to create a show collaboratively and they definitely did not want to label it "feminist."
"It was a point when feminism wasn't really 'cool,' at least in that flashy, media blitz kind of way" Sadava says. "It was before you had Beyoncé dancing in front of a big Feminist sign at her concerts, and we thought, 'We can't say it's a feminist show. No one will come!'"
Nostbakken had originally set out to make an entirely different piece called House on Fire. Fuelled in part by the work of poets Sharon Olds, Amy Gerstler and Anne Sexton (who also served as partial inspiration for her breakout solo piece The Big Smoke), the aim was to explore the complex nature of female friendship.
She'd hired Sadava as a performer for the project. But the initial idea quickly collapsed and they decided to collaboratively create a new piece from the ground up. The focus shifted from female friendships in general to their own experiences as individuals.
"Initially we thought that we'd be playing two different women with distinct personalities and opposing viewpoints," Nostbakken says. "But pretty soon we realized those contrasting personalities and conflicted opinions exist within a single woman, often at the same time."
Mouthpiece follows a character named Cassandra over a single day as she tries to prepare a eulogy for her mother at the same time that she's literally lost her voice. Using a combination of text, music and movement, Nostbakken and Sadava play Cassandra simultaneously — sometimes speaking and moving in unison, other times following disparate tracks.
In examining her mother's life, Cassandra is forced to unpack her assumptions about who her mother was and what kind of woman she is — one who is far less liberated and free from patriarchal influences than she'd thought, a process that mirrors Nostbakken and Sadava's journey in making the show.
If we don't make explicitly feminist art and take fierce political action, we can so easily be buried by the thousands of years of patriarchy.- Norah Sadava
"Once we began writing to that theme, by provoking each other to be more and more honest, we realized that this was a truth that wasn't being spoken about much in public," Sadava says. "We didn't decide we wanted to make a show based on our own experiences, per se. We had to make a show based on our own experiences because it was a revelation we needed to share and we could only really speak for ourselves."
Aside from Beyoncé's flaunting of the F-word, a lot has happened in the four years since they began creating the show that has changed how it resonates — the U.S. election and the trial and acquittal of former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi being two of the most notable events.
The raft of articles, TV spots and social media commentary defending Trump's "locker room banter" and questioning the validity of sexual assault survivors' experiences reinforced just how alive and well misogyny is (in case there were any doubt).
Reckoning with this in the broader scope of the world and in their own lives revealed to Nostbakken and Sadava the need not only to create feminist art but to actively label it as such.
"If we don't make explicitly feminist art and take fierce political action, we can so easily be buried by the thousands of years of patriarchy," Sadava says. "Mouthpiece is absolutely a feminist show. It's an examination of our own discovery that we needed to stand behind feminism and a proclamation that gender equality is far from being reached."
Mouthpiece. Created and Performed by Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Directed by Amy Nostbakken. Movement direction and dramaturgy by Orian Michaeli. Jan 26-29. High Performance Rodeo, Calgary. www.hprodeo.ca. Jan 31-Feb 4. PuSH Festival, Vancouver. www.pushfestival.ca