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Shá Cage Debuts U/G/L/Y at Intermedia Arts

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This weekend, performer Shá Cage gets "U/G/L/Y" at Intermedia Arts, a new solo work that explores notions of beauty through the stories of multiple women. It's the second installment of her trilogy about identity, and the result of collaborations with a number of different Twin Cities artists, including her husband, e.g. bailey, who directed the piece. Other contributors include Chastity Brown, Ananya Chatterjea, Kenna-Camara Cottman, and Greg Schutte. Co-produced by Tru Ruts Endeavors and Intermedia Arts, the work is part of a year-long tour that will end at the Guthrie Theater. We spoke with Cage about her creative process.

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When you embarked on this project, did you know that it would be a trilogy? 

Shá Cage: When I first created N.I.G.G.E.R., which has been renamed The N Word, I didn't know that it would be three parts, but halfway through the development of that first piece it became apparent that this could be a three-year project. I didn't really want to get too didactic about how many parts or pieces or years, but I knew it was bigger than just one piece. 

There are pieces in U/G/L/Y that are connective tissue to the first show, and I'm sure there will be to the third part of this trilogy. Of course it's a different texture. What I've found is that it's becoming more and more personal, which is frightening and revealing. 

Have you decided on a topic for the third piece? 

The thing that connects the three is identity. So it's really looking at myself and our self through our own lens. The piece right now will be called Woman, with a nontraditional spelling of woman. I've been playing with the names and the way the words fit on the page.  

U/G/L/Y has way more storytelling than the last one. What I feel right now is that the last part really is stripping everything down to a few very essential stories that might surface. 

What was most difficult for you when working on this piece? 

The scariest part is just wanting to make sure that I move out of my own way, that I stay honest to the material. A lot of times when I'm developing work, things pop up. I get scared when there's an impulse to ignore certain things and say I'm going to deal with that later. They pop up for a reason. That was scary.  The piece started to speak to something that I'm with dealing with in my own life. I knew it would be personal to a certain degree, but I didn't realize certain things would pop up, like my mom's recovery from cancer surgery. It changed all our lives. There's a lot that I'm dealing with around healing and body and what we put in it and how we nurture it.  

We started out U/G/L/Y with a certain clarity and lens. I realized that it's more complicated than that for me. I really want to honor that.  I don't want to get caught up in trying to present it in a way that follows an expectation, because it  changes every day.  

How many different characters do you play? 

There's about seven characters that are very specific. The piece is not a long performance. I get a chance to trust certain women and their realities and what I call a nugget or a snapshot. In those snapshots we are able to see over seven different women and whatever their realities are. 

You are the only performer? 

There are two of us that perform the piece. I'm the person that does the most onstage in terms of theatrical performance, but there's a musician that plays a critical role. Kate Pehrson. She's a  violinist.

You are a beautiful woman. Do you think the fact that people might perceive you in that way changes the story at all, or changes the way people might perceive this particular topic? 

To be completely honest, every time I hear someone give me a compliment like that, I'm floored. I imagine the other people in my circle would also be floored by getting that type of comment. The quick answer is no. The long answer is the show is about the baggage we carry. In some ways that's what's exciting to me. Even though it's through my lens as a black female, a brown woman that moves through the world in a certain way, I think we all, us women, we carry a lot and we have to be reminded of certain things. To get to the next thing we have to get rid of shit.  We have to meditate at certain moments.  When we talk about beauty -- whether it's physical or internal -- I think there will be people that bring in a lot of assumptions.

What I heard from folks looking at the poster were things like, "Is that you?" And I heard folks say, "Wow" and "Stripped down." What I get from that is that they think it's a bold choice to have an image like this. I wasn't even thinking so much in that way. I was more interested in when we're in an ambiguous place -- when there is no hard yes or no -- what that expression can be. What I've found is that particularly young women are shocked by my choice of hair in the photograph, of what I'm wearing and what appears to be the lack of makeup. It's very revealing about all the baggage we carry and how we see things. I will be very curious to have the post play discussion. That's one of my favorite parts of the show.  

IF YOU GO:

U/G/L/Y: A Daring New Work

7:30 p.m. Thursday, January 22 through Saturday January 24

Intermedia Arts

2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis

Tickets are $15 in advance an for students/seniors, $18 at the door. $10 for groups of eight or more. $10-25 sliding scale on Thursday.