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.