Who is Betty Grumble?

Whether you’ve caught her gracing the stages of festivals and venues around the country, or tearing it up at some of Sydney’s hazier dance parties, Betty Grumble is an undeniable force of and for nature. 

The reigning (raining?) green queen of the queer scene combines a deep love of the planet and those around her with a howl of rage at injustice and an eye to a fairer future in fearless performances that shock, delight and motivate all who encounter them. 

Our producer Thom talks to Betty’s slightly more mild mannered alter ego, Emma Maye Gibson, about her creation, the planet, and how we might try to unf*ck everything. 

Note: this discussion does include reference to violence and sexual assault. If you or someone you know needs support, please click here>> or call 1800 RESPECT.

Thom: You are Emma Maye Gibson, creator of and co-conspirator with local person of interest Betty Grumble. How would you describe her to anyone who hasn’t come across this critter before?

Emma Maye: This critter was born out of frustration and trickster energy. She is a sister and friend, faery and monstrous bod. She isn’t something I take on and off, she is an amplification, a drug I use to get into an altered state of feeling. Sensation Queen. She is often very fleshy, she contorts and thrashes and oozes and ripples.

Some find her disgusting, some are turned on, sometimes it’s both. She has evolved with me, she has cradled me and confused me. She is neon pink and green, gold and black markings. She is laughing and singing and vulgar dancing. She is very serious. She likes to sing with her c*nt. She loves tumbling around in the rough surf as much as floating serene. She has existed before and pays respect to all the space made for her by drag queens, clowns, anarchic queers, sex workers, shamanic strippers, poets and punks. She is decaying and divine. She’s composting me. I am very grateful. 

 

Thom: How and why did you create Grumble? Where did she first appear?

Emma Maye: I created her by playing. I wanted to make theatre and I was studying performance art at UNSW where I met one of my best and oldest friends, Charlotte Farrell. She introduced me to queer community, I finally found somewhere to play and feel myself. We formed an art collective called What Makes Men Blush. We made furious, bold works in burlesque, strip and nightclub spaces.

We were playing around with showgirl names for each other and I baptised myself ‘Betty Grumble’. My father’s parents were Betty (my grandmother) and Grumble (my grandfather). I entered a queer talent quest upstairs at The Oxford at Taylor’s Square called ‘Lucy Suze’s Lucky Dip!’ and I won! It was the first time I assembled what came to be the ‘look’ for Grumble, the wig, the beginnings of the make-up markings, her gestures and laughter. That is where I also met Matthew Stegh, Matt Hornby and Justin Shoulder who gave me a gig at Monsta Gras at The Red Rattler. Then I just kept going! 

I want to also acknowledge Glitta Supanova, High Priestess of Sex Clowns, who gave me some of my first gigs in Pretty Peepers Cabaret, and who makes radical performance space in Australia with her performance work and Coastal Twist Festival.  Elizabeth Burton, our goddess of striptease, is also a figure of great importance and education to me. There is so much powerful feminist sex energy here! Community is real and it saved me.

I eventually made a full length work – Betty Grumble is Gagging For It – and following that Sex Clown Saves The World, which I ended up touring around the world. Since then I have made full-length works Love & Anger and The Unshame Machine. I have consistently made short club acts, video works and variety evenings, dance classes and varying Grumble encounters.  

 

 

 

 

Thom: Have you seen her change much over the years? 

Emma Maye: Yes, and that’s good! It’s funny to look at how she was ten years ago. I almost feel like she had to be quite a fixed image for her to allow me to crumble and process and compost within her. She’s evolving with me. I’m much more interested in the spaces in between her and I. I had to go there with the carapace! I had to embody something very strange and monstrous to apply her to wounds and dissolve her in me. It’s quite tangible evidence of self-healing and loving. She really helped me – to quote our beloved Uncle Jonny (Seymour – of stereogamous) – ‘to resonate joy’. 

 

Thom: You are currently developing a new work, Enemies of Grooviness – Eat Shit, produced by Performing Lines and opening in October at Griffin. Can you give us an idea of what the experience will be like for the audience?

It will be a tapestry. It will fuse corporeal storytelling with an autobiographic language that I hope to deepen with the clown dance Grumble has taught me. I am composting and composing a world that honours my decade’s work with her whilst applying this knowledge to recent experiences and observations of toxic masculinity and really, of a rape culture that permeates the personal, social and environmental bodies we all live in and have responsibility for.

I want to create an experience that makes space for the mess of trauma. I want to embody the hysteria that myself, my sisterhood and my ancestors have lived. There is so much joy in the body, so much love and possibility. Grumble holds pain in one paw and pleasure in the other. We dance it together. 

 

Thom: It is also a very personal work. Can you tell us a bit about what you are exploring and why?

I’m exploring the global subjugation of women’s bodies. Grumble was always the reactive scream to the deafening silence of men’s violence. Men have taken my body from me, they have tried to kill me and they look at me on the street with a loathing that can only come from deep existential crisis. They look at queers and trans folk this way, bodies that defy the status quo.

I just want to unshame and unf*ck this world. There is enough tragedy in our bodies. We have to carry our families disease and death. We don’t need these control freaks f*cking with us. I have some theories on male paranoia, toxicity and sadness. I’ve internalised the patriarchy and class war myself! I want to deprogram. I want to return to the Earth.

Should we kill our rapists? Was reporting my violent ex-partner to the police the right thing? Why don’t we talk about this endemic that affects us all? Men suffer too. I don’t want to kill, to be violent, to bring more pain into the world, but we have to make space for raging and reaction. I hold the paradox and the empowerment of Valerie Solanas’ Scum Manifesto simultaneous with lyrics from Hair the Musical.

I hold compassion and understanding in one hand, then I hold a reckoning in the other. I want to contort and thrust and hurl my body against the condescending oligarch and their media empire that upholds this system of shit. It is collapsing. We are in it. I am excited to make noise. I feel no shame. I want to use the power and the privilege in my body to redistribute the wealth I have. I want love to be the contagion. We make our own Justice. This is and it isn’t my story, I want to tell it laughing.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thom: In all your works, you seem to have a knack for balancing seemingly incompatible emotional states – grief and humour, arousal and disgust, joy and anger, pleasure and responsibility, entertainment and activism. It creates this kind of spark, a sense that anything can happen, that we are all part of it, and that we as an audience have agency. Why is that important to you?

Emma Maye: Because I have power. I have power that I can redistribute. I don’t want to create trauma porn. I want the conversation to be really happening. The stage is a sacred site, where it is possible to generate real energy. This energy can do heart work and body work and spirit work. I think the theatre can be a spiritual awakening. We are all meeting each other. To be seen is a powerful thing. 

 

Thom: You are also about to embark on a creative development with a fellow Betty – Taiwanese feminist sound artist Betty Apple. What is exciting you about this project?

Emma Maye: This is exciting because it is so unknown! Betty has such a divine way of making work. I feel that they embark from a similar place to me but use different methodologies to arrive at their destinations. I want to cross-pollinate! It’s invigorating to be thrust into new channels of communication, especially with an artist from a totally different culture. Two Betty’s! It’s funny!  

 

 

“WE
MAKE
OUR OWN
JUSTICE”

Thom: You have a few full length works, and many more club and festival performances, under your belt. They seem to build on and reference each other, creating a Grumble vision of the world, of the future. Can you give us a sense of what that world could look like?

The world COULD be a world of listening bodies, of breath and justice and love. The white, wealthy status quo could realise their own jealously at having amputated themselves from the Earth and do some radical composting of itself. The world needs Justice for First Nation’s communities. People are culture, we should be learning from these communities and creating our own culture of respect and empathy.

There is also the world that is happening right now, in the hearts of queers and those freedom fighters, activists, carers and joy resonators.

I believe in Love Energy. This sex clown still wants to save the world.

Betty Grumble’s Enemies of Grooviness – Eat Shit premieres at Griffin from 26 – 31 October. Tickets on sale now>>

You can also catch her twice-weekly Grumble Boogie dance classes for free on Instagram>>

In everything we do, we acknowledge that we live on Aboriginal land and constantly learn from the wisdom of our First Peoples.

Where we are and the history that precedes us informs how we work and how we move forward.