Arts & Culture

Claws Out

The Charm City Kitty Club celebrates 17 years of unconventional cabarets.

There’s no shortage of risk-taking theater in Baltimore, but there’s only one troupe that features sword tricks, belly dancing, and actors humping toilets. That would be the Charm City Kitty Club (CCKC), a local queer theater cabaret that will celebrate its 17th season this month with a no-holds-barred show called Claws Up, Walls Down!

Formed in 2002, CCKC started as a queer cabaret based out of the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown. “We set out to create a space where queers could come together that was organized around art rather than alcohol, and it was really effective,” says longtime member Rahne Alexander.

Since then, CCKC has evolved into a volunteer-based organization for people of all races, genders, sexualities, and performance abilities to express themselves on stage. The “Kitties” only perform one to three times per year, but once the curtain rises, they push the boundaries of sex-positive theater with poetry, stand-up comedy, and musical acts that deconstruct gender politics and identity.

After putting on 45 shows, with themes ranging from fairytales to The Golden Girls, the collectively run cabaret has created a community of queer local artists that continues to grow with each performance. Whether volunteers contribute to the show by creating publicity posters or bartending, they’re always welcomed into the group with outstretched paws. “After a while of supporting each other, you become a family,” says longtime member Abby Cocke.

But it’s not just the Kitties that get to have all the fun—CCKC is open to audience participation, too. During the 2005 show Escape to Mortville, non-binary performer Glenn Marla went onstage and, claiming to be “the fattest person you know,” stripped down to nothing and invited onlookers to paint their naked body. “There were respondents saying they really had to challenge their own internal biases in watching that performance,” says Alexander.

From June 28-29, the Kitties will return to the Baltimore Theatre Project stage to take on the much-discussed topic of walls during Claws Up, Walls Down! With four to five acts per show, audiences can expect to see the troupe’s signature weirdness applied to narratives surrounding historic barriers such as the Berlin Wall, as well as community divisions within Baltimore.

“As a black queer artivist from Baltimore, I am truly honored to lend my voice and talent to the theme for this year’s show,” says featured artist Unique Robinson. “It’s apparent that the mask of the nation is off; it’s fully up to us to weave a new cloth.”