Get To Know: The Cocoa Butter Club, the cabaret collective celebrating queer performers of colour
We caught up with the founder and curator, Sadie Sinner, who has brought joy, melanated excellence and death drops to our London Houses
By Gisselle Babaran
Burlesque dancers, drag acts, singers, acrobats and belly dancers are just a taste of what to expect when watching The Cocoa Butter Club in action. Headed up by singer and host Sadie Sinner, the cabaret collective platforms queer performers of colour, redressing the UK performing art scene’s lack of representation among BIPOC and LGBTQI+ individuals, and those of marginalised genders.
We caught up with The Cocoa Butter Club ahead of their performances at 76 Dean Street and Shoreditch House, where we watched some of the industry’s brightest talents, as well as some up-and-coming stars. Check out the video for more, and read below for the full interview.
What were your intentions with setting up the collective?
‘The Cocoa Butter Club is a place where the melanated are celebrated. I created it so that producers could have a pool of performers of colour to book for their cabarets. But what actually happened was that lots of people of colour started coming to watch, because the show was filled with everyone that looked like them.’
You enlist a range of performers at various ability levels. What was the thinking behind this?
‘I always wanted to have a showcase that welcomed newer acts, so that we could nurture them. We have formed a family-like culture where people become mentors to newer acts. Conversely, acts that are more experienced discover new ways to create and present their art, because they’re working with people that are fresh to the scene and have different ways of thinking. It helps prevent us from becoming indoctrinated to a homogenous idea of cabaret.’
What do you want your audience to take away from your shows?
‘That it’s a celebration of life – of all types of life. I want them to understand that we have so much in common, but also to honour the nuances of the differences between all of us, because that’s the beauty of this world that we live in. What we’re trying to say with our cabaret is that the entire world deserves to be showcased and celebrated; things look different through different cultural gazes, and they are all valid and interesting. If we are able to break down homogenous ideas of crafts, then we’re opening ourselves to the possibilities of what performance can be.’
What changes have you witnessed in the UK’s cabaret scene since setting up The Cocoa Butter Club in 2016?
‘There are more collectives of colour than ever. So many, actually, that I worried for a moment that The Cocoa Butter Club was redundant, because part of the mission had been completed: more BIPOC performers were taking charge and creating spaces for themselves. Every single new cabaret that pops up is a celebration, and it’s just extremely validating.’
What further changes do you hope to see?
‘I would like to see more accessible performances. We’re really proud of our new production, The Queer Burlesque Revue, because we’ve been working to develop the accessibility of our shows. We are looking to incorporate audio descriptions throughout the entire show, and we had a British Sign Language interpreter as well.
‘There are incredible organisations like Whiplash who are run by disabled cabaret artists that offer workshops where you can learn how to audio describe effectively. I’m hoping to take BSL classes too, so that I can host in British Sign Language. Let’s just do better, you know?’
What does the future hold for the collective?
‘I would love to see us on a worldwide tour with our new production, The Queer Burlesque Revue. I’d like it to become the best production it can be – to really inform people and celebrate queerness, and queerness within the diaspora of people of colour.’