TEMPERED Dramaturg's Blog #2: "An open nerve"
“We can’t push forward without looking backwards.” This reflection offered by Jordan Friend seems an apt summary for the artistic journey that these creators have embarked on together. tempered: a cabaret is an exercise in remembering, and finding ways to direct the rage that rises in that revisiting.
Last week, I highlighted the three stages of rage: escalation, crisis, and recovery. This week, in conversation with creators Shaquille Stewart, Jordan Friend, Jordanna Hernandez, and Alani Kravitz, we explored the kinetics of those stages. I opened the conversation by asking the creators to describe, in one word, what precedes rage: Quiet. Trapped. Stillness. Fear. These four words invoke the composed restraint of remaining tempered before the escalation. If this paralysis is the reality before rage, how do we move into an escalation and crisis of rage?
The creators are united in their understanding that this shift necessarily involves a loss of control. Alani Kravitz reflected on “the fear and anxiety of being powerless to calm [one]self.” For Shaquille Stewart, “it's a short fuse: high jump, low fall.” Rage is flawed and urgent, and involves an abandonment of tempered restraint that can, at times, feel involuntary. Turning to art as a means of grounding, Shaquille Stewart shared that “music greases the movement from each stage to the next.” The opening of tempered: a cabaret is an intricate combination of original music and reconstructed classics which explore this loss of control and disorientation. Together, the creators survey an emotional landscape that has become all too familiar, seeking an understanding of what we can do within a crisis. Speaking to the struggle within that crisis, Shaquille Stewart discussed the often nonlinear experience of rage: “Sometimes I get aftershocks of why I'm upset, and BAM I'm right back at escalation.”
The discussion of the fragile, nonlinear experience of rage raised a further question: what other aspects of this journey are fragile by nature? Jordan Friend offered that “The fragile part of rage is its capacity to blind us to our own shortcomings and human flaws. Feeling angry makes it very easy to shut off introspection, which I think is necessary to move rage forward into something else. But that block is so tenuous. Rage can have plenty of fear, doubt and insecurity lurking beneath.” Fellow creators echoed this line of thinking; Jordana Hernandez further described the human error involved in an experience which has a foundation “built on habit and inner narratives.” The artistic offerings centered in tempered: a cabaret leave room for human error and occasionally unreliable narrators, as an expression of this tumultuous foundation. Part of releasing the restraint and silence that precede rage is intentionally taking up space and air that were previously out of reach.
The acknowledgement of that fragile foundation brought forth the next question: what aspects of rage are firm by nature? What anchors us on this journey? In short, the creators agree that it’s about knowing (or discovering) what you stand for. “[It’s] the trigger that lives inside your brain, however small it may be. You can almost forget it’s there until it gets pulled,” shared Alani Kravitz. For each person, that trigger looks different, but it’s always the power behind the process. For Jordan Friend, it’s the “capacity to protect others we care about… Feeling angry on someone else's behalf is a unique and powerful emotion.” Shaquille Stewart reflected on the perils of firmness, saying, “there's an open nerve, must be handled lightly, very fragile. But once that nerve is struck, I'm solid in that emotion, it's a wall, and I can't see through it.” tempered: a cabaret provides a space for these creators to explore the powers and perils of rage, and how these solid and fluid aspects of the process can both blind us and guide us. The artistic offerings seek methods of ultimately directing rage towards its final stage: recovery.
I asked the creators to describe, in one word, what follows rage: Quiet. Relief. Action. Bitterness. Inertia. Sorrow. Joy. Chaos. Acceptance. There is no singular answer. While rage is a universally shared experience, it never leaves an identical wake. The creators of tempered: a cabaret, unique and united, stand witness to rage which cannot be tethered, and recovery which cannot be foreseen.