LH: Shooting with you was so easy & relaxed, you’re definitely a natural performer & know how your body works. What age did you get into dance/performing?
BG: I’ve been dancing since age 4. I studied ballet, Tap and Jazz and have my teachers dance certificates so am very official at moving and grooving. I have also been a little attention seeking beast for all time, reciting poetry and creating self-starring investigative documentaries and monologues that saw me receive the title of ‘Shakespeare Tits’ in high school by the loving and persistent bullies. Little did they know they were giving flattering and accurate description to my natural exhibitionism, creativity and self-love.
LH: From there, how was Betty Grumble born?
BG: Betty Grumble was born out of the desire to survive. In a world where the status quo is so violently mundane, where cynicism and despondent hatred of the other tries to suffocate those with the desire for harmony and diversity. Grumble allowed me a way in to beauty as a defiant act. The grotesque and fleshy Grumble body is one linked to strong histories of people in revolt of unfeeling. Drag and glamour, the stage and artistry is a way to invent new ways of being and connection. Grumble was born out of love and anger, a war mask, a celebration spectacle and total beauty. All pain is connected and so is all beauty. When we express ourselves we give life to what cruelty has tried to extinguish. Grumble came so naturally, she must have been whirring away inside for a long while.
LH: She’s such an amazing character, I remember first seeing one of your shows & just being like “wow wtf is going on?” What’s your usual audience reaction?
BG: Joy, outrage, lust, excitation, dancing. Betty is usually met with big smiles and recognition – but she is a divisive vision too. I love the variety of reaction. She wants to expose herself and also expose the vibrations of those around her. You’re either going to come along for the ride, dive in, shake, or recoil in horror. Both are valid responses… Yeah baby… What the EFF is THAT!!?
LH: How do straight men perceive your shows?
BG: Some men can have trouble digesting the Grumble. Then again, so can some women or those in between. I guess it comes down to whether that person is trapped in a matrix of normalness. Normalness sentiment will respond to my sex-clowning with disgust but this is just a reflection projection of their own self-stuckness. The frustration at needing to fix things in one place, to define them and control them is a very sad and dangerous thing. Everything is in flux, language, bodies, borders, sexuality and gender. Boundaries and permissions are constantly moving and being moved. It is up to each person to come into any interaction with enough context and openness to react in an evolved and progressive way. I think humans are guilty of assuming they know it all… When really the most exciting things are the unknown – the space in between, chaos and abandon. Here is where you get real clarity…. Am I a man or a woman? The answer is… YES*. (*I’m sure I heard someone else say that, but isn’t it good?
LH: What kind of message do you think your bringing to your audience with your shows?
BG: Betty Grumble’s message is of fierce loving and bodily celebration. I want the audience to spur Grumble on and for she to do the same to them. Grumble demands the woman body as a political site for reclamation. She aligns the Earth body with the Woman body and treats shows as shamanic, showomanly rituals of unshaming and wildness. In a Grumble event audiences should feel they are bearing witness to something very personal, there is an intimacy to performance as a medium that’s potency reminds us of our humanity.
LH: Your costumes & your styling is very iconic, like you can be picked from a mile away. How long did it take you to really master the Grumble look?
BG: When Betty first got born she used a real shitty eyeshadow. Like when you get into mumma’s make ups and make big round shapes on your face. Her wigs were not big enough and it took her a few years in experimentation and influence to grow her graphic. Betty had to grow up like this. She can shift and morph within her rainbow way but feels she has found her face, Her kabuki inspired, dragged up dolly, clowny, surreal showgirl head gifts itself as a mask for others too – I’ve had a few creatures experiment with the face…. It’s exciting to think the Grumble patterns can transfer across bodies and mediums – like colourings in the natural world, caterpillar design, petal arrangements or cracked Earth.
LH: Can you talk us through one of your handmade pieces, the Scum shirt?
BG: I created this shirt for an act I did inspired by Valerie Solanas. I love her S.C.U.M Manifesto (which arguably stands for the society for cutting up men) and made a show where I did a lap dance for the patriarchy, bit off its cock and then did a joyful go-go covered in blood. Although Solanas may have been deadly serious about a world with no men (she famously shot Any Warhol) I, still loving men, can really get down with her angry sentiment and think the manifesto is a great cathartic ‘fuck you’ to a male dominated world. Check it out. (Not for the PC obsessed – requires ability to tongue cheeks) http://www.ccs.neu.edu/home/shivers/rants/scum.html
LH: We talked a little while shooting about ethical fashion & what it means for you being a vegetarian, can you go a little more in depth on how that curbs where you spend your dollars?
BG: I’ve been a vegetarian for 9 years and have recently gone vegan. I believe in human and animal liberation. I think one of the greatest horrors of humanity is how we treat animals/the natural world. Animal agriculture, being the largest contributor to climate change is unacceptable. We have to change, we are already sentencing ourselves to an early extinction and it continues to spin my right out as to how much people seem to not care about what they eat or how another being is treated. This extends to how I consume when creating, I, wherever possible use ethical and sustainable materials. My costumes are recycled, repurposed or purchased from independent makers. I want to minimise waste and keep and reuse everything I make. My make-up is cruelty free and water based, and I, when possible use organic glitters – limiting plastic wastage. I usually only shop at op-shops, independent makers or markets. I am open to suggestions on how to do better, conversation is key.
LH: Whats your thoughts on fast fashion?
BG: I believe it’s another of capitalisms bad polluters and human rights abusers. Cheap fashion, although making garments more affordable for some, has tendrils that extend across oceans to continue environments that exploit workers and create disposable garments and lives. Can you imagine how much of what we consume ends up in landfill? Let alone how badly workers get treated to hold up these industries? I believe that consumer control can transform industry. If we buy less, shop ethically and encourage others to do so we can curb environmental and ethical disaster. I hope. It is a seemingly endless struggle of ‘how to’s’ but we have to try and be better and less cynical – a holistic reach for fashion is totally possible. Once we start asking where and how and who more – companies have to answer.
LH: Talk to us about sex, how do you feel about how its portrayed in the media?
BG:The media likes to tell us that there is only one way of being. This makes society an easily controlled sphere which means corporations can sell us on these assumptions readily and frequently. Sexual diversity is not truly visible across mainstream media, women’s pleasure is not their own and our bodies are sanitised and presented as non-threatening commodified objects. Sex is such a powerful communicator, true sexy sex is a creative and wild force that knows no restrictions on healthy and subversive storylines. Sex is either shameful or only described in a heterosexual limited contexts. There is so much great media being made outside of the mainstream landscape. https://iloveclaude.comis a great example of content created for same-sex attracted women. I think the future is in us creating our own medias that speak up for vulnerable and marginalised bodies and represent our colourful ways of being.
LH: Being so body positive on stage and IRL, does this have an impact on your audience in a positive way?
BG: I believe, based on my own experiences of this, that witnessing bodies you can relate to or that inspire you to express yourself comforts and gives permission for people to feel united and stronger in their self expression. I can thank artists like Annie Sprinkle, Patti Smith,The Guerrilla Girls, Diamond Galas, Karen Finley, Peaches, MC Gaff E and Glitta Supernova etc. for making me feel like I was not alone in my feelings about my body, sexuality, angers and womanhood. I hope Grumble can contribute to the cacophony of women’s voices that push back against a world that tells us we are not strong beautiful and valid.
LH: What about body hair?
BG:Grow it, lick it, shave it, collect it in jars! Do what ya want! It’s YOUR body!
LH: What projects are you working on at the moment?
BG: I am currently touring my cabaret show GRUMBLE: Sex Clown Saves The World and also working on the next show Betty Grumble: LOVE AND ANGER. I am in collaboration with Candy Royalle on a feminist blog titled P.I,G POST and perform on the regular with drag collective Gang of She (Aaron Manhattan, Joe Pol, Matt Format, Beau Kirq, Betty Grumble). Stay tuned to my social media’s for upcoming Grumble’s!
LH: Where can people catch you?
BG: I’m a regular at Sydney’s The Bearded Tit and Tokyo Sing Song plus I am currently touring my full length show GRUMBLE: Sex Clown Saves The World to Melbourne’s The Butterfly Club (DEC 6th -11th), Perth Fringe World & Adelaide Fringe.
LH: You’re such an interesting person & have so many amazing things to say, where can we follow you & get more?
BG: Keep ya ears and eyes peeled! Follow Grumble on Twitter: @Betty_Grumble and Instagram: @bettygrumble or check out my websitewww.bettygrumble.complus YouTube: Betty Grumble Land