Renowned sex clown Betty Grumble returns to the stage to explore big feelings of grief, love, and fear and the great tools of navigation: art, pleasure, and justice. Grooviness is a state of being in touch and in rhythm so Betty invites all those enemies of grooviness, perpetrators of gendered violence, violence against the Earth, and violence against the self, to dive into her eco-feminist compost heap to eat shit.
Structured like a cabaret, performance artist Emma Maye Gibson’s newest iteration of Betty Grumble moved through a bit of song, a lot of dance, nudity, sex, performance poetry, and performance art to illustrate the many influences and experiences that inform her artistic practice, personal philosophy, and sense of justice. In addition to incorporating revenge against an abuser, Betty paid homage to some of the performers who have impacted on her performance including Candy Royale, Dr Annie Sprinkle, and Elizabeth Burton who were all represented in large banner portraits populating the stage. Alongside them were two other portraits, one of Betty’s vulva printed onto a banner by Ms Saffaa and a photograph of a large tree from Betty’s childhood. These two images of Betty’s body and an old sacred tree represented Betty’s guiding philosophy of eco-sexual feminism bringing together the body and nature for a holistic approach to joy and pleasure.
Despite what seemed like disparate forms brought alongside each other in the production from dance and music to burlesque to poetry to a ritualised “grief cum” complete with magic circle and incense, the through-line of art and art as a form of love in the face of grief, trauma, violence, and fear was a powerful connecting force that held the performance together. Gibson is a charismatic performer and her highly supportive audience were mesmerised by her expert versatility between performance modes. As such, the atmosphere of shared experience rather than a stiff performer/audience distinction allowed for a full embrace of vulnerability, transparency, and empathy at the heart of the production.
Supporting the bold, exuberant raucous of Betty was stage manager and assistant Craig (Megana Holliday) and an overwhelming sensorial production design. With the sound design by Gibson and stereogamous, which included hits like “Don’t Cha” by the Pussycat Dolls and “Purple Rain” by Prince, and the clashing lighting design by Alex Torney, the lurid production design created a brash and garish club aesthetic that was electric and exciting. If the music was 80s/90s pop, though, Betty’s costuming by Matthew Stegh and Haus of Helmutti was all disco with white patent leather and thigh-high go-go boots. Craig even got in on the action with a similar strappy suit with a black bikie edge. Amongst such colour and fun, it was hard not to succumb to being open and alive to the energy of Betty Grumble.
So much in life is hard and painful and unfair and yet Betty Grumble is a reminder that those things do not diminish the infinite good of love and pleasure and joy and art and nature and connection. Get back into your grooviness and embrace your body and the beautiful bodies around you. Everyone else can keep on composting.
Enemies of Grooviness Eat Shit was performed at Eveleigh Works from June 14th – 18th as part of VIVID Sydney
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