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“Performing MOUTHPIECE is a bit like running a marathon & singing an opera simultaneously.” In Conversation with Norah Sadava & Amy Nostbakken of MOUTHPIECE

Interview by Hallie Seline

I had the pleasure of chatting with the fierce artists of Quote Unquote Collective, Norah Sadava & Amy Nostbakken, the creators and performers of MOUTHPIECE. We spoke about the necessity of precision, time and digging deeper in their creation process, the importance of touring and continuing the conversation nation-wide, and finally… #traininglikebeyoncé.

MOUTHPIECE is on stage now to November 6th at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, presented by Nightwood Theatre as a double bill with Anna Chatterton’s QUIVER (Keep posted for our interview with Anna).

Hallie: I was floored when I first saw MOUTHPIECE, so I’m thrilled Toronto audiences are getting another chance to see this! Can you speak about what sparked the creation of the show?

Norah Sadava: The spark that ignited Mouthpiece happened midway through making an entirely different play. Amy and I had begun working together on a piece about female relationships, but we couldn’t quite get at the heart of it without looking deeply at ourselves, and once we did that some major lightbulbs turned on for us. Once we started to dig inward we suddenly recognized our own hypocrisy, our own contributions to the oppressive heteronormative-white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy, our own confusion and inner conflict regarding where and how our generation fit into the ‘women’s movement’, and how we personally could rail against the stereotypes that have been fed to us through every portrayal of women we’ve seen since the moment we were born. So we decided that we had to make a show about that instead. 

Photo by Brooke Wedlock

Photo by Brooke Wedlock

Hallie: How did you develop the piece into what it is today? 

Amy Nostbakken: Mouthpiece was developed over a period of three years. That may seem like a long time but it is a drawn-out creative process that allowed us to insist on every moment being charged with multiple layers of meaning. It’s not an exaggeration to say that every breath and swallow and shrug in this show has been thought about and has a purpose.

Hallie: I’d believe it! You two are so precise in the show. It’s incredible to watch a piece with that much detail, intention and precision. It packs a punch!

Amy: When we decided to tell this utterly personal and extremely necessary story of what it is like to be inside one woman’s head, thus tackling the theme of what it is like to be a woman today, we did not take it on lightly. And it’s complex, you know? It’s subtle and non-linear and messy and also terrifying. So a lot of time was spent going over a piece of text or movement or music and asking – “Is this honest? No, but really? Have I censored this, or molded it to fit into my pre-existing ideas of what is ‘good’ which have inherently been crafted by some dead, white man?” For us it was just too damn important a subject to rush into production.

So to answer this question technically: we developed this piece through years of research, years of digging deep and then deeper, then needling right into our very cores, years of examining our own hypocrisy and privilege, years of stripping away, and countless hours of repetition in front of a mirror.

Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava. Photo by Joel Clifton.

Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava. Photo by Joel Clifton.

HS: I see you’ve been touring the show across Canada. Can you speak a bit about your experience bringing this show on the road and how it has affected you as performers and creators, and this piece? 

Norah: Taking Mouthpiece on the road has revealed to us that this conversation must be national. We can’t solely exist in our own little liberal-west-Toronto-artist bubble and preach to the choir forever. It is important to us to have our work challenged by other perspectives, other communities, other geographies, and hear responses from people from all sorts of different backgrounds. Feminism has to be intersectional or it’s not really progress at all. Of course we acknowledge that a theatre audience is already inherently biased based on the fact that they are at the theatre (have the money, time and interest to expose themselves to experimental art) no matter what town we are in. But having played this piece across the country, we can say that there are some truths that are a national (and international) matter. We’ve also learned that a bathtub can travel, and how to get the most possible free snacks on airplanes. 

Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Photo by Joel Clifton.

Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Photo by Joel Clifton.

Hallie: I’ve been seeing these incredible “training” videos of you both getting yourself ready to perform the show. It’s a huge feat watching you both do this show. Can you speak about doing this training, why you’ve found it’s important and where the idea for this came about? 

Norah: Performing Mouthpiece is a bit like running a marathon and singing an opera simultaneously. When we haven’t done the show for a while it takes a lot of juice to get back into shape; this show requires a great deal of breath control and cardiovascular fitness to carry out movement and vocals simultaneously for an hour straight. So in preparation for this run at Buddies we were trying to think of the very best regimen possible. Then we remembered something that Beyoncé said…

“My father, who was also my manager, made me run a mile while singing so I would be able to perform on stage without becoming exhausted.”

Apparently he would make Destiny’s Child wake up early every morning and jog around a track while singing their whole set. So we bought a cheap treadmill and upright bike off kijiji and started doing the whole show while switching back and forth between running and biking in the front room of my house (without our fathers forcing us into it, luckily).  Sometimes we sing 90’s hits instead of the show, and in honour of the source of inspiration, Destiny’s Child is on high rotation. It seems to work. We still get tired, but because of Queen B we never lose our breath completely.  

Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Photo by Joel Clifton.

Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Photo by Joel Clifton.

Hallie: If you could have your audience listen to one song or playlist before coming to see the show, what would it be/consist of?

Amy: The idea behind the music in the show is that you are taken on a journey through an abridged history of the female voice in popular music (so inherently, the female voice filtered through a male lens…). The compositions are inspired by southern hymns, opera arias, Bulgarian choirs, the Andrew Sisters, Billie Holiday, Tina, Janis, Joni, Beyoncé…

So I would pick any female artist that you love and while you’re listening to her sing, appreciate all the hoops she’s had to jump through for you to be able to hear her. Or you could just go for Billie Holiday or Nina Simone, can’t lose.

Norah: I’d also add Millie Jackson – Go out and Get Some. She always puts me in the mood for action. 

Hallie: Describe the show in 5-10 words.

Amy: Woman wakes to find: mom dead, voice lost, womankind still under thumb of patriarchy.
(That was 14 words, but I generally try to take an extra 28% whenever I can to make up for the 28% less I make as a Canadian woman compared to my fellow Canadian men.) 

norah-and-amy-475

Quick Answer Round:

Favourite line or moment in MOUTHPIECE:
Amy/Norah: The opening harmony in the dark.

Favourite place in the city:
Norah: Tie between Sunnyside beach and my kitchen table with a record playing.
Amy: Tie between Kensington Market and my bed.

What you’re currently listening to on repeat:
Norah: The new Leonard Cohen and the new Angel Olsen.
Amy: Solange

Where do you look for inspiration:
Norah/Amy: Lake Ontario, poetry

Best advice you’ve ever gotten:
Amy: It’s a tie between: “Only make good work” and from my grandmother: “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.”
Norah: “Use it or lose it.”

Any advice for young emerging artists:
Amy: Only make good work and don’t hide your light under a bushel.
Norah: Only make work that you feel is absolutely necessary. Have a reason, something that you are burning to say, and the rest is just logistics and hard labour.

 

MOUTHPIECE

Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Photo by Brooke Wedlock.

Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Photo by Brooke Wedlock.

Who:
Created and performed by Norah Sadava & Amy Nostbakken
Directed and Composed by Amy Nostbakken
A Nightwood Theatre presentation of a Quote Unquote Collective production
Presented as a double bill with Quiver

What:
WINNER, Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble
WINNER, Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Sound Design/Composition

A harrowing, humorous and heart-wrenching journey into the female psyche. In the wake of her mother’s death, Mouthpiece follows one woman, for one day, as she tries to find her voice. Interweaving a cappella harmonies, dissonance, text and physicality, two performers express the inner conflict that exists within a modern woman’s head: the push and the pull, the past and the present, the progress and the regression.

Where:
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
12 Alexander Street, Toronto ON, M4Y 1B4

When:
October 21 – November 6, 2016

Tickets:
tickets.buddiesinbadtimes.com

Connect:
w: quoteunquotecollective.com
t: @QUCollective
fb: QUCollective
ig: @qucollective
hashtag: #MOUTHPIECE

 

Artist Profile: Jordi Mand – Playwright of CAUGHT, on stage now at TPM

Interview by Brittany Kay

I had the utmost pleasure of talking with the incredible Jordi Mand, playwright of CAUGHT, which opened this week at Theatre Passe Muraille in their Backspace. We spoke about creating your own work, the inner struggles you face when graduating university, and the differences between doing the job and getting the job.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about your new play? 

Jordi Mand: Caught takes place in the security holding room of a major department store in Toronto. It focuses on a female security guard and a teenage guy who she has caught shoplifting and how the situation unfolds between them. A police officer arrives to process him and the tables are sort of turned on this security guard. She thinks she has caught this shoplifter but everything starts to go awry for her. That’s focusing more on the events of the actual play, but the piece, itself, has changed a lot over time. To me, it’s really about justice and interpersonal justice – justice between people and their steep inner personal justices that they feel. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how some people in this world for lesser reasons seem to be able to get away with things and other people can’t. How does that come to be? What are the ingredients of our lives that bring us to that place? What is our moral code that allows us to actually break the rules or make the rules? That was a really big launching point for the show.

Photo of Jakob Ehman, Meegwun Fairbrother, Sabryn Rock by Michael Cooper.

Photo of Jakob Ehman, Meegwun Fairbrother, Sabryn Rock by Michael Cooper.

BK: There was a lot of development that went into this play. How did it come to be?

JM: It’s actually had a bit of a long life. So in 2009/2010 I was part of Nightwood Theatre’s Write from the Hip Unit, which is their emerging writer’s unit for emerging female playwrights. Write from the Hip has changed considerably in terms of its format, but at that time the objective was to write a 15-minute piece and so I wrote the first 15 minutes of Caught. Andy McKim at Theatre Passe Muraille asked me if I wanted to present something or hear something read at their Buzz festival. I hadn’t touched the piece in about a year and then decided I wanted to hear it again. I had been a resident artist at TPM for a number of years and both Andy and I knew we wanted to work on a project together. We were circling around different ideas and at the same time we both came back to that piece and the themes of justice and injustice, entitlement and consequences that are found in the play. We both agreed that there was a longer life for this piece than just a few minutes and started exploring it. I had been working with Andy dramaturgically and further developing it. There was a workshop of a earlier full draft in September and now we’re sharing it with the city.

BK: Why TPM? 

JM: When I graduated theatre school, I had been working for Obsidian Theatre in an administrative capacity. I was their Director of Development and Obsidian had done a co-production with Roseneath Theatre and TPM and it was just as Andy was moving into the theatre as Artistic Director. I first got to know him then and the philosophy of TPM, which I just sort of fell in love with. I just found their attitude towards storytelling and their artists and emerging artists really real and wonderful. They had put a call out around that time for Elephants in the Room, which was their emerging artist program, and they were looking for people to help launch that. So I approached them and said it was something I was really interested in doing. I became one of the four co-founders of Elephants in the Room. We also started Crapshoot, which still happens and so I’ve had a long relationship with TPM. I think a lot of artists, especially in this season who are sharing stories and are part of TPM, have similar connections with the TPM. The company has been an integral part of their journeys as they have been moving forward in this crazy theatre world. Then I became a resident artist with TPM and Andy and I really wanted to tell a story together and I wanted to tell a story with that company and Caught just seemed like the right fit.

BK: What a lovely journey.

JM: Yeah! Sort of a natural evolution over many, many years.

BK: Why the title Caught?

JM: The action is certainly a big part of it. I love how it has to do with how we find ourselves caught, either by our own doing, people catching us, us being caught by our own habits and our own hang-ups that we can’t get past, us being caught within society’s rules and regulations of what we can and cannot do – how that sometimes can work in our favor and sometimes it can work against us. We’ve really been spending a lot of time in rehearsals talking about how we can get these characters caught as much as possible. It’s also part of the ride for the audience and part of the fun of it – how can we get into as much trouble as possible?

Photo of Sabryn Rock, Jakob Ehman and Meegwun Fairbrother by Michael Cooper.

Photo of Sabryn Rock, Jakob Ehman and Meegwun Fairbrother by Michael Cooper.

BK: Tell me about your team?

JM: I’ve known Sabryn Rock (who plays Trisha) for a decade now. We went to the National Theatre School together. She’s amazing. I’m really spoiled, it’s a really incredible team. Jacob Ehman is playing our kid, James.

BK: I saw him in Sophia Fabiilli’s play “The Philanderess” in the Toronto Fringe and just thought “Who are you? You’re amazing!”

JM: I am really thrilled for him that he is getting the attention that I think he really deserves. He’s such a talented actor and he gives so much. I love watching him work on this piece because James is a confusing character, Jakob is such a spontaneous actor. It’s wonderful watching him process the play, moment by moment. I know what the character is going to do next but I don’t know what Jakob is going to do next. It’s really an actor’s play. The joy and pleasure of this world is really the moment-by-moment, tiny details that each character either brings to the other and the journey that the actors take their characters on. An actor named Meegwun Fairbrother plays our police officer and he’s a real presence in the room. As soon as the character walks in, everything changes. I feel that way with who Meegwun is as a person as well, so that’s just really amazing that those two line up. Sarah Garton Stanley who is the Associate Artistic Director of English Theatre at Canada’s National Arts Centre is our director. She is so focused in her storytelling. Each moment is so fresh and calculated. She has a really great brain and heart for this world. Our design team is fabulous. It feels like the right ingredients in the room for our world.

BK: Tell me about the design concept?

JM: It’s one room, one location, almost like a holding deck. There’s only a table and chairs. It’s very neutral. It has very little personality and it’s almost as if there’s the forth wall and part of it has just been cut out so you can see through it. Not like a two-way mirror… someone has just taken a knife and removed a chunk of it. So the audience will feel like a fly on the wall, like they shouldn’t be there or they’re intruding. It should feel a little bit like a scene of car accident on the street, where people are driving by and they can’t turn their eyes away from it. Hopefully we can do the same thing for our audiences. Fingers crossed!

Photo of Sabryn Rock and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

Photo of Sabryn Rock and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

BK: I’m going to put a hold on the play and ask about you. Tell me a little bit about your journey to where you are now.

JM: I’ve been involved in theatre for a long time. I was one of those theatre kids, where babysitters loved me because I would coordinate plays for parents to watch and they would sit upstairs and do nothing. I had been involved in productions as an actor as a kid for a very long time. I grew up in Richmond Hill and I was part of CharActors Theatre Troupe, where they had just auditioned to be one of the choirs in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. They asked me if I wanted to be a part of it and that was a big thing for me as it was my first professional show. I missed school for a year. It really changed a lot for me. There was never a moment where I said, “I don’t want to do this.” At that point I thought I still wanted to act and so I went to Unionville High School, which is a performing arts school. Then I went to York for their theatre program for a year.

I’m not a particularly impulsive person, but there are these few markers in my life where I’m like, “I’m going to make this decision!” and I have no basis for it or even an understanding if it’s going to work out. York is great because it’s a generalized theatre program where in your second year you specialize. This might have just been the really bad student in me because school and I have had a bit of a complicated relationship, but I just remember hearing this voice being like “you need to be in a more of a conservatory program”. Someone I went to high school with who I considered to be the best actor was at the National Theatre School and I just remember saying, “I have to go there.” I started looking at all of the artists that really inspired me and a lot of them had graduated from NTS.

BK: So you left York before specializing?

JM: Yes. I auditioned for the acting program at NTS and got in. I went there really thinking I was going to focus on classical theatre, with my ultimate intention of acting at Stratford or Shaw. I was very focused on that being my trajectory. What I didn’t anticipate was that when I was there I would find this unexpected joy in creating my own work. The curriculum in our second year was focused more on creating your own work and largely for yourself. I ended up finding that work really enjoyable and craving it more, which was a big surprise for me because I thought I had really defined for myself what I thought I was going to do.

I graduated and moved to Toronto and started auditioning. I had applied to SummerWorks the year after I had graduated with this solo show that I had written in school. It was about my family and me. I used my own name. It was a very personal story. I applied and they said that they were interested in my voice but they were not offering me a slot in the festival. They had offered me a spot in the Under-25 Reading Series instead, which provided the opportunity to develop my piece with a mentor, followed by a live reading. They partnered me with Hannah Moscovitch.

BK: Wow! What an amazing person to be paired up with.

JM: Right?!

BK: Could you ask for a better mentor?

JM: No. It was crazy. That was sort of one of two path-changing moments, I think. Even when I was at school and we were graduating, I was still conflicted about whether I wanted to be an actor. My parents are pretty academic and they are huge supporters and lovers of the arts but they are not artists. I don’t come from an artist family. I really felt that after going to a conservatory, where you don’t get a degree and you don’t get a diploma, the idea of me saying that I don’t know if I want to act anymore, felt like such a slap in the face for them and that I was letting myself down. It sounds so silly saying it out loud, but I actually felt so ashamed that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep acting. So in meeting Hannah, who had gone to NTS and who had been in the acting program, who had really started very seriously on her trajectory as a writer at that point, was the first person I could actually talk to about writer things. She was the first dramaturge I had in my life. She was the first mentor I ever had. Sometimes when you find the right person at the right time it just makes all the difference. She answered every question that I had. We worked really closely together. There was something about it that, as I was working on that piece, and as I was working with her, something just started to feel right.

BK: So that was it for your actor days?

JM: I just wasn’t always prepared to do the work as an actor that I should have been. I liked the idea of getting the part but once I got the part I was like, “well I guess I gotta do this now.” Actors have to have such a commitment and dedication to the process. I just don’t think I have that as an actor. Whereas, as a writer, I can see the difference in my process now, in that case. Meeting Hannah and working with her was a huge game-changer for me.

BK: So what happened with Summerworks and your play?

JM: I ran into Michael Rubenfeld on the street and he said, “Just to let you know, we’re going to hire an actor to read your piece for you.” I was confused because the play was about my family and me. I was writing it for me. I was supposed to be in it.

His response was, “That’s fine and you can pick it up and take it wherever you go afterwards, but I think it would be really helpful for you to just hear it.”

BK: How did that change things for you as a writer?

JM: As I started writing, knowing that in mind, I decided to change the character’s name from my name because I thought it was bit silly for somebody else to say it. Then I stared changing other details and this solo show went from being one actor on stage to there be being three actors on stage, with multiple characters. What seemed like such an inconvenience at the time, turned out to be one of the biggest gifts. I was really only writing for as well as I could act as opposed to telling a story fully. If I started writing in territory that really scared me as actor, then I would stop writing it, because it was just for me. Somebody else having to do that work meant that I could go anywhere. It never occurred to me to write for other people. So the combination of working with Hannah, somebody who was really at the rising point of her process as a writer, and this large shift writing for other people made everything click. That was the key moment I unlocked everything. From there, I’ve been writing pretty seriously ever since.

Photo of Sabryn Rock, Meegwun Fairbrother and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

Photo of Sabryn Rock, Meegwun Fairbrother and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

BK: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

JM: My life. There is a lot of me in every world that I touch. People may see it and not know anything about that. I’m really inspired by my family. I’m very inspired by the world that we are living in, this city and beyond. What is it that is defining and challenging and turning our world right now? I’m really worried about the state of our world right now. There’s just chaos in so many areas of our lives. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but in the last 10 years even, things have changed so much. Our connections to each other have changed so much. I find inspiration in how troubling I find that. So that’s a large part of Caught, too. Who are we as people today? Who are we raising? Who is this next generation? Do we have any accountability to each other anymore? Do we mean anything to each other?

I have a lot of those questions. I find inspiration in fear, in anger and in not knowing. For me and for a lot of writers these plays sort of become our venues to try to work out a problem or a query.

Photo of Meegwun Fairbrother and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

Photo of Meegwun Fairbrother and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

BK: Is there a way you stay motivated to write? What are ways you keep the motivation alive and dedicate yourself to the work?

JM: The last two years I’ve found it really helpful to work on multiple projects. That’s the way it’s sort of panned out. If I feel like inspiration is resting a little bit, I find myself cheating on my plays with other plays that I’m working on. It’s not that I’m not working, I’m just working on something else. So that helps.

Thinking about an audience, I find, is the thing that always keeps it going for me. Continuing to come back to what’s at the heart of it. What is it that I’m trying to say? What is that I want audiences taking away? Writing is such a solitary process. You spend so much time here in your head. I mean, you have your team which is amazing, but then you’re in a rehearsal hall and it’s still pretty contained. Thinking about the people who are going to be receiving it; who you may never have any contact with, you never know how they are going to experience it and you can only hope that it’s the way that you intend. Thinking about them, that magical audience, is the biggest thing for me.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

JM: Right now, today, I would really like audiences to walk away and think about how they are treating other people and how they are treating themselves in relation to other people in this crazy world.

Photo of Meegwun Fairbrother and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

Photo of Meegwun Fairbrother and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite Book: Today, I will chose The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

Favourite Play: Shape of Girl by Joan MacLeod

Favourite place in Toronto: My bed.

Favourite Food: Berries.

Favourite Movie: Toy Story.

Last play you saw: The Public Servant.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten or words to live by: Do the work. Focus on the work.

Advice for emerging artists: Do what works for you. The amount of work you get might mean you might not be able to sustain yourself in any capacity. I’ve talked to a lot of artists recently and they’ve expressed a shame or trepidation about having part-time jobs or full-time jobs to support themselves. They think they have failed or they’re dishonouring their craft in some capacity, but I don’t think there’s one way to make something happen for yourself. I think everyone’s life and reality is different. You have to shape your life in a way that you can do the work and do it with a full heart and not have to feel guilty for making excuses for yourself. Don’t ask yourself, why you’re not doing it like this person or that person. You have do it the way you do it. I wish someone told me that early on. It would have saved me a lot of sleepless nights. It’s so hard. It’s hard for everyone, even the people it doesn’t seem hard for. Look for mentors and make connections. Treat those connections like gold. Find people that help you do what you want to do. 

CAUGHT

A Theatre Passe Muraille Production. On stage now until April 24th.

Who:
Written by Jordi Mand
Directed by Sarah Garton Stanley
Dramaturgy by Andy McKim
Starring Jakob Ehman, Meegwun Fairbrother & Sabryn Rock
Production Design by John Thompson
Sound Design by Debashis Sinha
Assistant Director: Donna Michelle St. Bernard

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Ave. Toronto.

When: March 31 – April 24, 2016

Tickets: Pay-What-You-Can Saturday & Sunday 2pm Matinees, $17 Under-30, $20 Artsworkers, $28 Senior, $33 General Admission

passemuraille.ca/caught

Connect with us

Connect with us!

Spread the word: #CaughtTO

Theatre Passe Muraille – @beyondwallsTPM

In the Greenroom –  @intheGreenRoom_

Brittany Kay – @brittanylkay

 

 

In Conversation with Jennifer Brewin about “The Public Servant”, on stage now until April 3

by Bailey Green

“A healthy, strong civil service makes for a freer, diverse and inclusive world, and that is just my world view,” says Jennifer Brewin when asked about what she hopes audiences will take away from the upcoming production of The Public Servant (presented by Common Boots Theatre and Nightwood Theatre). “We vote for politicians and those are the people who determine what kind of civil service we’re going to get. An accountable robust civil service is best for everyone.”

The Public Servant began about 6 years ago, shortly after Brewin was made Artistic Director of Common Boots Theatre (formerly known as Theatre Columbus). Brewin knew she wanted to work with Sarah McVie, Haley McGee and Amy Rutherford and she was drawn to the idea of exploring the strains of public life. “The people who work in admin or in management are often these unsung heros,” Brewin says. “Literature tends to mock them or reduce them, and they haven’t had their place in the sun. So it was an important idea to me, especially because so many people who work in administration are women. Where are the songs about the heroic work of that, getting a report in on time or completing an audit. Those things create foundation, support and innovation.”

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

The team (Brewin, McVie, McGee and Rutherford) interviewed a wide range of women working in the public service in Ottawa. Over the course of their interviews, they encountered three generations of women working in the public service. There were the women who had worked during Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s time, who had been given responsibility to create new policies and laws for a more inclusive society. “They told incredible stories of fighting for equal pay, for changing maternity leave laws and regulations,” Brewin says. Then there were women who were currently working and were nearing the mid to end point of their careers. These women had worked during Mulroney, Chretien and Martin’s terms as prime minister. “They had faith in what they were doing but their faith was strained,” Brewin says. “Jobs were cut under the Harper administration and people were let go. And then we met young people going in to public service, which was a very different experience. They wanted to be good administrators and managers, but didn’t have particular ambitions to change the world.”

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

The women wrote the play through long form improvisation. Each of the actors was drawn to a different generation of public service and each character became a composite of the different people the team had met. The character of Madge, a young and eager public servant, originally created by McGee, brings us into the world of The Public Servant. The play originally premiered in Ottawa, where Brewin found it was incredibly exciting to watch a play about women speak to all kinds of people. For this run, McGee had booked a contract in London England, and the role of Madge was taken on by Amy Keating. “Amy’s understanding of the script and the story has really helped reveal new things about the play and the character,” Brewin says. “It’s been really exciting working with her and clarifying her intentions.”

When asked about Brewin’s joys and challenges when working as a director on the piece, she said, “The joy was experiencing Amy, Sarah, Haley and, later, Amy [Keating] interpret the entire art of the play/production. It’s incredibly exciting to throw up all our rules of engagement and just dig into it.”

The Public Servant

BrochureImage
Written by Jennifer Brewin, Haley McGee, Sarah McVie and Amy Rutherford
Directed by Jennifer Brewin
Produced by Common Boots Theatre (formerly Theatre Columbus) in association with Nightwood Theatre

What: The Public Servant is a comic-tragedy about women and administration. Step inside the halls of power as Madge, a young, idealistic and enthusiastic civil servant, gets ready to write her first official memo.
Based on the interviews of some twenty civil servants who shared harrowing tales of navigating the fuzzy divide between individual need and public good, The Public Servant reveals a journey of heroic dedication and professional betrayal, of overcoming cutbacks, bad managers and incompetent ministers. And how in the end, the demands of accountability and transparency seem to defeat even the best bureaucratic soldiers.

Where: Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs
26 Berkeley Street

When: March 13 – April 3, 2016
Tuesday-Thursday, Saturday: 8pm
Friday: 7pm
Saturday-Sunday: 2pm
Wednesday March 30: 1pm

Tickets: Regular price $35

nightwoodtheatre.net