Before she founded Afrotease, a Richmond-based burlesque show that features people of color, Venessa Chevelle felt uncomfortable performing in certain situations.
“When I’m in D.C. I know I n be a little more free,” says Chevelle, who started doing burlesque in 2014. “But when I’m performing somewhere like Fredericksburg, Va., or somewhere that makes me a little nervous as a fat black woman to take my clothes off, I think about what I’m putting on the stage and how people will perceive me and my body.”
After a producer of the Richmond Burlesque Revue decided to take a break from burlesque in 2016, Chevelle was offered the show’s regular time slot at Gallery5 in Richmond. Seizing the opportunity, Chevelle knew her show had to involve performers of color who could fully be themselves onstage.
“It has become an event, not just a show,” the Richmond native says. “The crowd isn’t just one race or peppered with different people — the crowds exude love, and that’s what were really about.”
Chevelle makes a point of calling Afrotease a showcase, because it highlights so much diverse talent. (While the rotating cast is entirely of color, gender is non-specific.) She says she’s been overwhelmed by the response, especially on days when she has “imposter syndrome” about the entire production.
“People are telling me how much — not just in the cast but in the audience — how much this show means to them,” Chevelle says. “It’s overwhelming [when] people come to me and say they needed this. … I’ve had performers tell me they were thinking of quitting [burlesque] until they did that show.”
On Friday, Chevelle is bringing the showcase outside of Richmond for this first time, to the Black Cat in D.C. The event happens to fall on Star Wars Day — based on fans’ pun “may the fourth be with you” — and Chevelle says she’s asking the performers to embrace their geeky side.
“Each performer is doing something catered to their style — classic, glam or more avant-garde — but also bringing something a little bit more nerdy,” she says. “You can see the dynamics in each performer [as they] take on these different roles.”
Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; Fri., 9:30 p.m., $12-$15.