Fiat Vox: Two-woman play ‘Mouthpiece’ says what many women never say

When Amy Nostbakken and Nora Sadava started writing Mouthpiece six years ago, they revealed their deepest secrets to each other with the prompt: “Tell me something that you would never want anyone ever to know.” From that, they created a raw, one-hour confessional that reflects what it feels like in one woman’s head after she finds out her mother has died and that she has to deliver the eulogy the next day. 

Mouthpiece premiered in 2015, and four years later, Amy and Nora, who make up the Toronto-based company Quote Unquote Collective, are performing the play for the last time on March 22-24 in the Zellerbach Playhouse. It’s the last performance of Cal Performances’ 2018-19 Berkeley RADICAL Initiative’s strand “Women’s Work,” which takes a specific look at the extraordinary artistry of women who are expanding the definition of what it is to be an artist in the 21st century.

“This continuum of women’s voices and their work — the work that drives them — is important to put a spotlight on,” says Sabrina Klein, director of artistic literacy at Cal Performances. “Every single one is unique. Every single one is different. But it’s not incidental that they’re connected as women across this continuum of making work — live work, new work, fresh work, continually meaningful work.” 

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two women facing different direction so that they're faces look like one face

Nora Sadava (left) and Amy Nostbakken formed the Toronto-based company, Quote Unquote Collective, to perform Mouthpiece, which premiered in 2015. They will perform Mouthpiece for the last time at Cal Performances on March 22-24, 2019. (Photo by Brooke Wedlock)

Below is a transcript of Fiat Vox episode #52: “Two-woman play ‘Mouthpiece’ says what many women never say:”

[Excerpt from Mouthpiece: two women humming in unison]

“My name is Nora Sadava.”

“My name is Amy Nostbakken.”

[Mouthpiece: Amy and Nora humming in unison]

A woman with four hands are her face covering her mouth and one eye

(Photo by Brooke Wedlock)

Amy: “Mouthpiece is a play that attempts to reflect what it feels like inside my head, inside one woman’s head. She wakes up and discovers her mother is dead and that she has no voice, she lost her voice, and she has to deliver the eulogy the next day.”

[Mouthpiece: “My mother died last night. Mom died yesterday. I was out at a bar and she died.”]

Nora: Amy Nostbakken and myself play the same character. We fluctuate which sides of her brain we play and we’re in constant dialogue or we speak in unison or harmony or dissonance expressing all of the many thoughts that happen in this one woman’s brain.”

[Mouthpiece: “A high-pitched body signals a submissiveness. In females, it is considered to be healthier, younger, more desirable, more feminine and indicative of higher levels of estrogen…”]

Amy: She realizes she is not the progressive, liberal-minded awake person that she thought she was. She is very much under the thumb of the patriarchy. We all are. It invades everything we do, she does. And that we haven’t come as far as we’d like to think we have.”

two women in bathing suits in a bath tub

(Photo by Joel Clifton)

[Mouthpiece: “… In conclusion, the ideal female voice is naturally deep to project confidence, breathy to soften aggression and high-pitched to project a small body size in order to attract a mate.”]

Nora: “We were in our early, mid-20s when we first started making this show and we would talk to each other about the conversations we were having, the parties we were at, the ways in which we knew how to relate to the world and to men.

And we realized, I realized, you know, I would be at a party and someone would say something extremely sexist and instead of calling them out on it, I was laughing it off and maybe even saying something worse. Saying a more sexist joke to prove that I wasn’t bothered by that. That I was one of the guys.”

[Mouthpiece: “You wanna know how to win a million points, ladies? Be a girl and say the word ‘cunt.’ Men at bars and parties love it. Where girls aren’t afraid to say ‘cunt’ because it’s sharp and direct like a bullet.]

a woman standing at a microphone wearing a white bathing suit

(Photo by Joel Clifton)

Nora: “When we were writing Mouthpiece, we used this activity of revealing our most shameful or deepest secrets to each other as a way to really dig up some of the truths that we were hiding under layers of shame and learned behavior.

Amy: We would provoke each other with exercises, writing exercises, so, ‘Okay, we have 20 minutes to write. We’re each going to write for 20 minutes, don’t-lift-the-pen-off-the-page type of stream-of-consciousness writing.’ And the provocation is, ‘Tell me something that you would never want anyone ever to know.’”

[Mouthpiece: “When I’m walking down the street, I’m wondering what the men are thinking of me at all times. And if there are no men around, I imagine there are cameras with men behind the cameras spying on me. I imagine how I look to them, a girl who doesn’t even know she’s being looked at.”]

Nora: “At that time, it definitely felt like a revelation. And people’s responses confirmed that. A lot of women came up to us after the show when we first premiered it and said, ‘I’ve been thinking that my whole life and I’ve never ever said it out loud.’ And so they felt heard and they felt seen and that in itself felt like a really profound act.”

woman singing at microphone with her eyes closed and closed hands in the air

(Photo by Joel Clifton)

Amy: “Once I woke up, you can’t then go back to sleep. I can no longer watch Bridget Jones’ Diary, Sex in the City. It’s bad. It’s bad for us. I am the angry woman in the room now who says things like, ‘I’m sorry, that is making me feel uncomfortable.’ Who says things like, ‘That’s not appropriate.’ Who says the truth. But I’m a party pooper. It means you can no longer have a free fun time that includes a free, fun time that includes harassment, sexist jokes, etc. I am no longer the easy-going fun girl. I had to kill that girl and bury her under many feet of heavy rocks, so that I never try to bring her back.”

[Mouthpiece: Amy and Nora singing in unison]

Nora: “It’s not about judgement or holding oneself up to a high standard that is impossible to achieve. It’s about forgiveness at well and an understanding that it takes time. We’ve been programmed by a rotten patriarchal system since the moment we were conceived in our mothers’ wombs. Because that’s the system we live in and that’s the system we’ve all been raised in, so we have a lot of deprogramming to do for ourselves and for our society. But it’s just starting that action of just questioning — where things come from and where we’re headed.”