Velvet Chase Productions, with their two neo-burlesque shows in the Adelaide Fringe, #nofilter and Gorelesque, aim to normalise the mental illness debate while healing audience members and performers in the process.
In 2016, South Australian burlesque performer Velvet Chase created a community of amateur artists for the premiere of #nofilter, a circus freak show with a difference; all cast members are engaged in daily combat with a mental illness of one kind or another. The show has since toured the world, with its message resonating everywhere it has gone, as Velvet explains.
“We just had people coming up to us and just start hugging us and crying and saying ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’.”
“We had one lady come up to us with a black balloon tied to her wrist and said ‘I want you to help me release my shadow.’ She burnt the ribbon that was tied to her wrist and that was really special that she’d shared that with me.”
“People that suffer from mental health conditions feel they can’t speak about it and a lot of people feel alone and isolated and because it’s so taboo, they don’t want to be judged, I think they feel we are giving them a voice.”
While there has been increased awareness and acceptance of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety over the past decade, Velvet says that #nofilter aims to similarly reduce the stigma associated with the causes of depression and anxiety, like personality and eating disorders, trauma and childhood abuse.
“With mental illness, there are so many onion layers and we’re trying peel them back and show the audience that this person doesn’t just suffer from depression and anxiety; there’s reasons for that.”
Over the past three years, the #nofilter cast has become a community, a family unit, a weekly gathering place where performers can share stories, build connection and heal wounds. Velvet is mindful that such open discussions could trigger the traumatised, so she also ensures that a counsellor attends rehearsals every few weeks to help the artists debrief.
Velvet’s resolve to spread the show’s message was tragically strengthened last year, when Mitchell, a long-time cast member, finally lost his fight against depression.
“We were actually with him the night before at rehearsals and we knew he had been suffering for a long time but we weren’t aware of his [intentions].”
Velvet will donate the part of the proceeds of the 2019 Adelaide Fringe #nofilter season to suicide awareness, but her plans extend beyond this March.
“I have rewritten the show to make it age appropriate so we can take it to the youth and also to regional areas because there’s such a problem out there.’
“We need to let people know that it’s ok to say that I’m not ok.”
#nofilter plays at the Marion Cultural Centre from the 14th-16th of March while Gorlesque plays seven dates at Gluttony between 15th and 24th of February.