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“A woman in front of a microphone, a master of ceremonies of her story.” In Conversation with Anna Chatterton, creator/performer of QUIVER

Interview by Hallie Seline

I had the chance to speak with prolific Toronto playwright Anna Chatterton, creator/performer/master-of-all of QUIVER. We discussed her inspiration for the piece, the importance of collaboration, taking risks, and allowing her new pieces to breath, grow and adapt with her over time.

QUIVER is on stage now to November 6th at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, presented by Nightwood Theatre as a double bill with Quote Unquote Collective’s MOUTHPIECE.

Hallie: This is an incredible set up for a show with one performer. How did the idea for the show and then the idea for the need of this specific performance format come about?

Anna Chatterton: This story is inspired by my teenage self. When I was fifteen my older sister moved out and my mom would, at times, spend many nights at her boyfriend’s house. While I was welcome to join them, I was often alone at home. I was close to my dad but he lived in B.C., so we would talk on the phone a lot, but it was different than having him in the same city. Though I could take care of myself, it was pretty lonely. I remember a lot of silence, coming home to silence, waking up to silence.

Quiver was born out of that memory of feeling lonely, the dynamics in our single parent family and my teenage angst and anxieties. This play is a fictional account of that period in my life, and I am playing a fictional and dramatic version of myself, my sister, and my mother. I should point out that my sister and mother are actually very different than I portray them in the play – thus, fiction. The protagonist Maddie is closest to reality and myself, though I exaggerate parts of her for dramatic effect.

Photo by John Lauener

Photo by John Lauener

Hallie: Can you speak about how the play was developed? 

Anna: I originally began writing the play to be a solo show but then I started to write scenes so I thought, okay I guess this is a regular three-person play. Then I started becoming really interested in sound art, and wanted to learn more about creating live vocal effects for a theatre play. Luke Brown at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton asked me if I had a play for their studio series and I started to think Quiver might actually be the right fit as a solo play working with sound in the forefront. My partner Jim Ruxton, who is an electronics engineer, did some research and found a vocal processor that could pretty much do anything. When I approached Andrea Donaldson to direct Quiver, and told her what I wanted to do she said, “I love it – a woman in front of a microphone, a master of ceremonies of her story.” Then we hired sound designer Mike Rinaldi to help me actualize my sound dreams and we created a workshop production for Aquarius.

Photo by John Lauener

Photo by John Lauener

We talk about this show as being like a radio show that you watch happening live. I think the technology serves this story as the audience is always aware of me, the creator/performer, manipulating sound in front them while telling this intimate tale about a broken family. This woman (me, the performer) needs the technology to help tell the audience this story and I am totally in control of the storytelling.

Photo by John Lauener

Photo by John Lauener

Hallie: This is your 4th premiere in Toronto this year! Can you speak to your creation process and how you like to work and how you decide when a piece is ready to premiere?

Anna: I can write fairly quickly initially but I like to have a lot of time to sit with a piece, to come back to it again and again. I believe in the long process, often I will take up to three to four years before I feel a piece is ready to premiere. I like to allow a play/libretto breathe, as I change, grow, learn, and then let the pieces I am writing to change accordingly. I feel that ideally all plays or operas should have a workshop production, as that is the best way to see a piece, to learn what works and what doesn’t work in front of an audience (who understands they are watching a work in process), and then rewrite it before a premiere.

Photo by John Lauener

Photo by John Lauener

I really like collaborating. If I am writing a play, I like working with directors fairly early in the process so we can share our visions and dreams and thoughts and I can let those dialogues and notes guide the next drafts of the play. I also often work with my company Independent Aunties (with evalyn parry and Karin Randoja), where we create our plays together from the ground up and in the studio, evalyn and I co-write and act in the plays, and Karin dramaturges and directs. In opera the composer and I will come up with the story idea together and then I write the libretto, and the composer will set my text to music. 

Photo by John Lauener

Photo by John Lauener

Hallie: What would you like to see more of in Toronto Theatre?

Anna: More Risk. Allowing ourselves to fail in order to learn. Experimenting as artists, not playing it safe.

Hallie: Any advice for young emerging artists?

Anna: Have patience, and put in the work. It takes a long time to make good art. Ask for what you want, don’t expect to be asked.

Quiver

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Who:
Written and Performed by Anna Chatterton
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
Produced by Nightwood Theatre
Presented as a double bill with Mouthpiece

What:
“A brilliant and brave play.” – JUDITH THOMPSON
A single mother and a rebellious teenage daughter collide when a love interest comes between them, leaving 14 year old Maddie caught in the crossfire. Armed with little more than a microphone, laptop and vocal processor, writer-performer Anna Chatterton crafts and controls a sonic landscape in a masterful performance. A dark, delicious comedy about a passionate and imperfect family.

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

When:
October 21 – November 6, 2016

Tickets:
tickets.buddiesinbadtimes.com

Connect:
t: @a_chatterton
#Quiver

“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