And on the 7th day the Queer Spirit created the Cocoa Butter Club, to answer our prayers crying out for greater visibility for queer people of colour. Acknowledging the fact that there is still a serious lack of diverse representation in the Australian arts & entertainment sector, the CBC merges two significantly marginalised groups to present a night that is, to simply put it, not about celebrating straight, white folk.
Produced by Krishna Istha and Dani Weber, the ongoing popularity of the CBC is evidence in itself that the QPOC community (and its allies) is thirsty for events where they can cheer on and support incredible talent in an accessible-to-all safe space. We attended the July CBC, hosted by the hilarious and passionate Davey Thompson and Nayuka Gorrie, that featured an orgasmic line-up including the divine Mama Alto (whose beautiful rendition of Des’ree’s ‘Kissing You’ still haunts me), a hot and steamy performance by Drag King Justin Teliqure (what a heart-throb!), and a gravity-defying aerialist act by Rose Chalker McGann. Shamita Sivabalan’s dance act was transcendent and heavenly, Longy ‘Mother Nature’ was the kinky environment-loving teacher we all wish we had, and then there was the finale by energetic music duo Kandere, who turned the theatre into an upbeat dance party. These performers were enthralling, addictive and hypnotic. We caught up with Krishna to discuss the origins of the CBC, creating a safe space and how you can get involved.
How did the Cocoa Butter Club start?
The chapter in London was started by Sadie Sinner the song bird in 2016. I was one of the initial performers on the Cocoa Butter Club archive in the UK and when I moved to Melbourne in late 2016, I found that there was a gap in the performance scene for it. It was started as a way to give performers of colour a space to create and showcase work that wasn’t defined by the otherwise majorly white scene of promoters and producers.
The Melbourne chapter is curated and organised by me (Krishna) and Dani Weber. We’re both performers, artists and community organisers in our own right and so for us to organise an event, ensures we think of things that we as performers of colour have gone through in our work lives.
How do you find your performers?
Initially, I put a call out for indigenous and/or performers of colour (IaoPoc) on Facebook, contacted the few people I’d met in my few months in Melbourne and it grew quite organically. People were excited by the idea of a space like it, and put me in touch with all of their friends, who put me in touch with their friends, and so on. Our archive online has a handful of performers, but we’ve got a lot more in our family now!
Visibility for queer POC performers is still an ongoing issue, however there seems to be strong support from the community, with each CBC selling out. What are some ways that people can support the CBC and its cause in between events?
We’d really love it if people followed us on social media to keep up to date about our events. People talking about our night is important for us- as it’s a specific sort of event, we don’t imagine we’d get much reviewers or mainstream funders interested. So if there’s reviewers or funders reading this, and they think it’s an important space, and want to support it, please get in touch! People can also make donations to help keep the events running by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not only does the CBC promote a crucial minority, it is also an accessible event for all, with AUSLAN interpreters and disabled access. Was it your intention to create an all-inclusive safe space that filled a gap in the entertainment industry?
Yes, definitely. When I put my initial call out for venue suggestions (on Facebook, as always haha), I specifically asked for a wheelchair accessible space that had gender neutral toilets. Thanks to our Globe Melbourne funding, we’ve been able to afford an AUSLAN interpreter for our second event. And thanks to Halley Jean at The Melba Spiegeltent, we can call the Spiegeltent our home for now. The most marginalised, and excluded amongst our performance community are disabled folx, and it seems pointless to have an “all inclusive”, radical performance night without thinking of accessibility. The event is not just for a few people of colour but for our entire community. There’s other ways we could make the event more inclusive, and Dani and I are aiming towards it.
Some of your favourite/most memorable performances to date?
I couldn’t possibly pick one at the Cocoa Butter Club, they’re all so incredible lol!
Any tips for potential performers who want to get involved in Cocoa Butter Club?
Yes- GET IN TOUCH! We want to grow our family and our archive! There’s a form online on the website, fill it out!