Cabaret Interview Caro Meets

Cassie Leon: Razed and Confuzed Goes Digital

By | Published on Friday 19 June 2020

Coming up this week is a definite treat for cabaret fans in the form of a live streaming show from the Raze Collective, which – as you may know – focuses on creating platforms for the work of LGBTQI+ artists and performers.

To find out more about the show, Raze Collective in general, and the people behind it, I spoke to producer Cassie Leon.

CM: Can we start with some technical details about the online show: is it being performed live? How will people access it?
CL: ‘Razed And Confuzed GOES DIGITAL’ will be a epic mixture of recorded material from our amazing Razed And Confuzed artists as well as an evening with a live host: a sharp dressing, whisky-swilling, womanising jazz singer from the 1940’s, the most amazing Drag King Beau Jangles. Beau Jangles will keep our live audiences entertained and wanting more!

People buy tickets through OutSavvy and will then receive a special code to the event. Once online they will be met by a box office team and range of hosts to guide them through the various rooms we have developed.

CM: Right, now the technicalities are out of the way, can you tell us about what kind of performance to expect? Who will be performing and what kind of stuff do they do?
CL: Raze Collective works with a huge range of queer artists, from spoken word artists and vocalists, hoopers and theatre makers to drag kings and queens. ‘GOES DIGITAL’ is going to bring you a little of everything, but this time in a digital format.

We have four artists: Barbs is the queen of ball out anti-glamour and debauchery. Having almost won Miss Sink The Pink 2019 and just missing out on the title of Lipsync1000 winner, she’s sure to just about entertain you and leave you repulsed.

Mr Wesley Dykes was born on Halloween 2012, after noticing a considerable lack of colour, soul and funk in what he could find of the drag king scenes across the world. Usually Wesley is your favourite rapper, your favourite RnB singer and your friendly neighbourhood fxckboi. Sometimes he’s also your favourite storyteller, using spoken word, poetry and rap to play with identity, gender, sex and attraction.

Symoné is a queer circus and performance artist, renown for fusing multiple skills together, such as rollerskating and multiple hoops. Her skills have taken her around the world from Jamaica to London’s West End. She is a Fierce Festival associate artist and her work currently explores themes of human consciousness, body architecture, rave culture and rebellion.

And Brian is often one of the few womxn in a sea of men, so she invites you to come with her as she dances her way to liberty. Blending the butch with the camp, she’s got all the T when it comes to female empowerment – and more hair on her chest than your isolation armpits!

CM: How did you decide who would be performing in the show?
CL: Raze Collective puts out open calls for performers to respond to. We then have a selection process where producers, board members and other creatives select the candidates.

For this project we chose artists who we thought had a great story to tell, and who usually work in live performance, so normally rely on venues to be open, and don’t generally work through digital media to create art.

CM: Can you tell us more about Raze Collective now? Who is behind it, when and why was it set up, and what kind of work do you do?
CL: Raze is a charity established to support, develop and nurture queer performance in the UK. We have defined queer performance as “performing arts undertaken by people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex or that contains LGBTQI themes, content or context”.

We’re called Raze because the organisation was established in response to queer spaces being razed, through the threats and closures of many queer performance spaces in London and elsewhere around the UK, such as The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, The Black Cap in Camden and Madame JoJo’s in Soho.

We’re a collective, as we bring together people working in different aspects of the queer performance community – including performers, producers, promoters, directors, venue owners, academics and audience members – in order to protect and promote queer performance for everyone.

We host a regular Queer Performers Network, which is an informal gathering of performers to discuss issues and offer advice and support across the scene. We also commission new work from artists and act as a producer for events showcasing queer performers and performance.

We also established and ran the Queer Spaces Network between 2015 and 2018, which brought together promoters, producers, programmers, directors, venue owners and others with an interest in supporting and maintaining spaces for queer performance to take place. This included collaborating on some important research undertaken by the UCL Urban Lab.

Our team is Tim Other, who is Executive Director; Beck Tadman, our chair; and me – I’m the producer.

CM: How has your work been affected by COVID? What would you have been doing had the lock down not happened?
CL: ‘Razed And Confuzed GOES DIGITAL’ is a direct response to COVID-19.

We usually produce live performance with artists who rely on live audiences in bars, clubs and theatres spaces. As part of that commission process, artists usually get the opportunity to develop material that is seen by an invited audience of producers, venue managers and creatives looking to collaborate on projects, as well as members of the public. The artists are also given access to director support and a producer.

This offer has now had to move online, obviously, so COVID has thrown a spanner in the works and creatives have had to adapt and learn to work in new ways.

If lockdown hadn’t happened, we would have been producing a new series of spoken word events to support queer poets and highlight their work in spaces across London. We would have also completed a number of smaller artist development projects with Matchstick Theatre.

CM: Over the last few months we’ve seen a lot of performances delivered via online means. Do you think this period might have made the accessing of culture this way more ‘normal’?
CL: Artists have been brilliant at adapting their work to meet our online digital needs over the past six months.

We have seen some brilliant performances and also an excellent transition into trying to make work as accessible as possible for all audiences, with artists using new programmes to caption work, to offer audio description and to make sure performances have text sheets available. I hope that artists and producers will continue to work in this way and to always consider access needs.

Reaching online audiences is going to remain so important, as there are a lot of people unable to leave home to go to shows, and they now have a brilliant way to access live culture over the internet.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, now? How did you end up working in this business?
CL: I have been working in theatre and performance since graduation from Manchester Met in 2010, where I studied contemporary theatre and performance.

Once I graduated I started a theatre company – Cape Theatre – with Reena Kalsi. We write and devise original performances that celebrate shared experiences amongst diverse audiences.

As a duo, we create performances that draw an audience into thinking about their individuality and position in society, whilst encouraging them to explore an alternate position. We invite audiences to join us on a journey and live in the moment of performance.

Aside from Cape Theatre, I got into events management and teaching and then I found cabaret. I went to see a show of The Cocoa Butter Club in 2017 at Her Upstairs and I fell in love. The Cocoa Butter Club is such an important collective and they were producing shows in a way I hadn’t seen before and I knew it was where I belonged.

I started producing with them straight away, applying for Arts Council funding, and have never left. From there I found that queer performers of colour were in need of a queer producer of colour to ensure we have access to appropriate funding and to work on the representation of people of colour within the arts. Now I am a freelance producer specialising in working within the QTIBPOC community.

CM: What ambitions do you have for the future?
CL: I hope that we can get back into queer spaces and enjoy live queer performance. I think collectives like Raze offer so much support and joy that I want artists to be able to access it to the fullest. I want to be able to take Raze Collective and The Cocoa Butter Club on tours of the UK and Europe and eventually further afield. I want to ensure that queer collectives are always given the spaces, funding and support they require.

CM: How have you been keeping sane in lockdown?
CL: During lockdown I have been lucky enough to share a house with my partner, my brother and his partner and our dog who keeps us busy all day. We have a small paddling pool and a deck of cards which has kept us going! I have spent a lot of time watching performance online from the National Theatre and catching up on the Performance Live season on BBC iPlayer: you can catch The Cocoa Butter Club in ‘The Way Out’ there.

‘Razed And Confuzed GOES DIGITAL’ takes place on 26 Jun. Book your ticket here.


Photo of Symoné by Anastasia Jobson