Mouthpiece Talks Mums
by Jess Salgueiro
In November 2017 an audition notice for a movie called Mouthpiece landed in my inbox. I read the few pages of script they provided and I was vibing it hard - something that doesn't always happen. After a call back with the raddest director on planet Earth, Patricia Rozema, and a series of video submissions (one of me dancing to Beyonce’s 7/11, and the other- a live band karaoke version of me singing 4 Non Blondes Whats up?)...needless to say…I got the part.
Thank the good lords and lordesses because it was one of the most creative, thrilling, inspiring and magical projects of my career. Everyone involved in this thing from the cast, to the crew, to the background performers (for real they told me!) knew that we were making something very special.
The film Mouthpiece is based on the play of the same name written by Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava of Quote Unquote Collective. Without giving too much away, central to the plot is a mother-daughter relationship. After a tragic event, a juggernaut of grief and guilt unearths the rooted beliefs, attitudes and behaviours passed on from mother to daughter. The actors wrestle with the legacies of inherited body issues, pressures of gender decorum and out-dated generational social narratives.
If you haven’t already heard about the play, you are about to hear about the film. Not only is it a brilliant, inventive piece of writing, it is a poignant feminist piece and one that desperately needs to be seen. If one has the opportunity to see this with their mother it could be a particularly transformative experience.
I am truly grateful to call these two beautiful women my friends and I asked them some questions;
How did your mothers react to seeing the play?
Amy: My mom surprised me by secretly showing up to the first performance we ever did for a paying public. She sat in the back and cried. Afterwards she told us it was perfect. Only moms can say things like that. I’ve never received anything other than beaming pride and strength from my mother. I’m very lucky. The fact that Norah and I made a play that weaves fact and fiction about how angry we are that our mom died a doormat (fiction) and subsequently made a movie about the same thing that dives even deeper into details from my real life has never fazed her. My mom once told me – don’t wait until I’m dead to do what you want to do or say what you want to say. It’s only years later that I truly understand why she said that and how special it is that she said it. Needless to say I’m taking her up on it.
Norah: My relationship with my mother has definitely changed since she saw Mouthpiece for the first time. I think in her first viewing she was all at once proud, devastated, amazed, embarrassed and elated. She grappled with how much of it was a reflection of her directly and what was written with creative license, and she wrote me a beautiful letter later that expressed this. It was called "Of Doormats, Armchairs, Names, and Not Becoming one's Mother". In it she wrote that there were aspects of the fictional mother in the play that she could definitely disclaim (wedding obsessed, diet/body conscious, fashionable - not her), but that parts of her were certainly reflected in both the mother and the daughter on stage. She also gifted me a doormat in place of flowers to remind me that she, in fact, is NOT a doormat. Which is true.
The play gave us a new language to speak to each other, she understands my experiences more, and I, in turn, hers. We can speak more openly about our lives, we can relate more closely to each other as we have both come to understand and articulate the legacy that we are a part of in the evolution of womyn finding our voices in a patriarchal system. She has now seen the play so many times I've lost count. And she says it is still painful to watch certain parts. But to her great credit she has also encouraged people far and wide to see the show, including friends and family who she knows may not take so kindly to the material, because she believes they need it. Both Amy's mum and mine are hands down the number one fans of Mouthpiece. And we dedicated the manuscript to them because in emboldening us to use our own voices, they have made all of this possible.
What is your favourite thing you’ve inherited from your mother?
Norah: I’ve inherited a lot of beautiful things from my mum. The other day I was watching home videos of my mum from when I was 1 year old. I was astonished by our physical similarity, even the way we sit, the way we move our heads, the way we laugh. It knocked me out. I felt so connected to her in witnessing the inevitability of those similarities. But apart from genetics, one of my favourite things I've inherited from my mum is her rebellion. My mum was raised in a pretty conservative, traditional household in Scotland in which she was expected to attend certain educational institutions, comport herself in a certain way, make a certain amount of money, live within a certain class structure, marry a certain kind of man, and instead in her mid-twenties she moved to Canada (on a steamship no less) where she followed her passion, fell in love with a hippy, and raised her kids in a commune with a bunch of other likeminded folks. She followed her own intuition, forged her own path, and found a life that she loved. I feel that I inherited that sensibility from her, the ability to trust in my own compass.
Amy: It’s not really my most FAVOURITE thing, but I can’t leave a job half done. I’ve inherited the – oh it’s 6pm and I’m still in my robe but I’m just going to do one more pass at this - trait.
If you have your own daughter what would you want her to know that no one ever told you?
Norah: I would/will tell my daughter that being a fighter is both necessary and admirable. And that being nice isn't always important.
Amy: I’m not sure it’s something you can be told, I think you have to learn it yourself but I wish I had figured out sooner that success is personal. I would tell her to ignore what other people deem successful cause you’ll never win. At which point she’ll say, yeah ok ok whatever mom, and the cycle of daughters being shit to their mothers continues.
What do you think you’ve taught your mother?
Norah: My mum is hyper aware of the fact that the world is changing fast, and she's totally open and willing to learn from younger generations. She's always seeking new perspectives that she may not necessarily relate to or understand, and she is humble enough to admit when she doesn't quite 'get it' but she will read, or listen, or research until she does. I think you should ask her what I've taught her. She always proudly emails me when she's successfully been able to argue with someone without backing down, so maybe I've helped her learn how to do that.
Amy: After watching Mouthpiece my mom got a look at the patriarchy from a different angle and I think it changed her opinions on certain things. The play seems to have that effect on a lot of women. It provokes audiences to look back at all the transgressions and the pressures, the workplace sexual harassment and the bullshit they’ve put up over the years, and call it what it is: bullshit. It’s not like we don’t already know that’s what it’s called but sometimes you need to hear it out loud. It helps if you scream it.
Mouthpiece is the Winner of the 2017 Toronto Theatre Critics Award for Best New Canadian Play. The winner of three Dora Mavor Moor Awards, and the Stage Award for Best Performance at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. They are about to head on a European tour with dates all over the UK, Ireland and Germany. Check them out at http://www.quoteunquotecollective.com