Bringing a woman’s perspective to the ‘N’ word

Shá Cage is not afraid of taking on controversial topics.

You don’t have to look further than the title of her latest piece for evidence of that.

It’s called N.I.G.G.E.R. (and yes, the line through the word is part of the title).

Cage says the seed for this show has been growing for years:

“I was invited to be a part of a performance in England over 7 years ago about black women from the diaspora and their hair. I was asked to create one piece representing my roots – the American South. I created a piece called ‘Ma Becca’ about slavery, women, love, and hair. That research inspired me to dig deeper around race and name calling. The “N” word kept coming up – in conversations, in readings, in songs.”

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Shá Cage in N.I.G.G.E.R. at Intermedia Arts

But, Cage says, most of the information she found was heavily male focused. She became interested in exploring the term through the lens of a young black female who grew up with the word being used around her.

“I don’t attempt to answer any questions but provoke new ones. I’m interested in the dialogue. That’s where we learn more about each others story – outside of popular assumptions. Most of the characters in the piece are women so I’m interested in simply hearing their voices, their concerns, opinions, and outlooks. These are the ones that are often missing from the conversation.”

N.I.G.G.E.R. features ten different characters and their stories, with each night of the performance slightly different. In creating the piece Cage has collaborated with musicians Chastity Brown and Chrys Carroll, choreographers Leah Nelson and Kenna Cottman, and artist/puppeteer Janaki Ranpura.

Tonight and tomorrow night, Cage says audience members will be invited to share their experiences with the “N” word in videotaped interviews.

“I’d love audiences to think about not just how the word is used in their lives but more so

how twe relate to our history, our culture, friends, family, colleagues, and all of that in the face of the constantly changing landscape of culture, race, and evolution. That sounds profound in some ways but the actual translation is ‘just to think about the world you live in and the people that occupy space in it.'”

Cage says this weekend’s performance run marks the second stage in a three stage development process as she continues to retool the show.

“My community being able to witness, respond and question [this piece] is vital to its development and my own development as an artist. Its an exciting/and challenging place to be.”

N.I.G.G.E.R. runs tonight through Sunday at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis. Performances start at 8pm and are recommended for ages 14 and up. The show is directed by Cage’s husband, e.g. bailey.