Skip to content

Performance Space presents: Day for Night 2015

February 18, 2015

Image: Emma Maye Gibson aka Betty Grumble Photo by James Brown

Summer steams in Sydney and the season of queer parties has cycled round again. Mardi Gras, our birthplace of gay civil rights has become a large cultural festival and it’s new arts highlight, Performance Space’s “Day for Night” is poised to open with a party, this Friday night at Carriageworks.

It was my honour to be selected to create a work for the first incarnation of this event last year, by
Jeff Khan, artistic director of Performance Space, and artist Emma Price of The Kingpins. And when I say honour, I mean my absolute terror. As I sat in an explosion of glue, crystals and latex, building my costume in the sweatshop of my apartment, the gravity of the invitation daunted me. Here was I, a queer performer with a body of work that while conceptually structured, saw its main transmission in spaces of entertainment and diversion. I was an old hand at spectacle and showbiz, invited to make a work here in a contemporary art space. As I read the roll-call of artists, I began to understand. There is a place for us.

Performance Space was one of the main hubs for experimental, boundary-pushing performance in the 1990s, hosting cLUB bENT the original Cleveland Street Venue. I missed out on these times, myself, but have heard awed recollections of performances that included live glory-holes, spraying enemas and animal participation. I was spurred into performance via the explosion of Gurlesque: The Lesbian Strip Club, where gender and bodies were toyed with and teased in front of an all-female audience. Comedy stripping with a political bent. And warehouse and club party events such as Club Kooky, where performances punctuate the dancing with bizarre and disturbing pastiches of glamour and abjection.

Queer performance art has a home in the dark, throbbing club and the twisted vaudeville of non-normative bodies, authoring and assuming their marginal identities. Day for Night has shown how queer performance from outside the academy can survive outside the nocturnal gestation of the club and self-represent within galleries and institutional spaces, in quiet, well-lit halls in conversation with other mediums.

From the vantage point of my performance at Day for Night last year, I was able to observe the party filling up, with Stereogamous immersing Bay 17 with their deep, transcendent rhythms. It occurred to me that while this party looked slick — incredible lighting design and scenic provided by the artistic works in situ, it was an ethos that was familiar to the queer community. We take for granted this rich attention to detail in our parties. Each surface considered, little mysteries to discover throughout the night. I saw from above people arrive and greet one another, enveloped in a growing host of idiosyncratically dressed humans. Uninhibited, connected, expressive. The barriers and hierarchies between audience and performer seemed to dismantle as the dance floor offered a performativity in its own gathering of queerness. The partygoers riffing off the live works of performance art and back again. And it occurred to me in a gulp: This is our language. We are authoring our inheritance.

In these last few days before the party and exhibition, I am thinking of the artists. Stretching, fretting, painting, mumbling, bingeing. I hope they stay healthy and ready for their durational performances. I am so excited to see all of their works — it is an incredible lineup.

Image: #betablockers, Lillian Starr. Part of Day for Night (2014). Photo by Lucy Parakhina

Toilesque – For Shits and Giggles

February 25, 2012

This Mardi Gras recovery Sunday, some of Sydney’s most celebrated queer performers come together to present an audacious and low-brow recovery party at the Vanguard in Newtown.

Brought to you by Australian burlesque star, Lillian Starr and Dirty Queer Magazine’s Xavier Moustache, “Toilesque – For Shits and Giggles” is an opportunity to laugh and indulge a bit of the lowest-common-denominator humor.

The night is in response to the misconception that burlesque is only a ‘classy’ form of entertainment. In fact, some of the most talented and glamorous performers we know of have a show or two in their collection that is totally low-brow and bad taste. Did you know that showgirls often poo glitter? What’s not glamorous about that?

“Australia’s Assiest Burlesque Show” will feature some of Sydney’s most accomplished queer performers, including Australia’s Queen of Burlesque Imogen Kelly (Imogen Smelly) and queer burlesque icon Glitta Supernova (Glitta Poopernova).

Also performing on the night will be queer performance duo Fancy Piece (Fancy Piss), ex-beauty queen Betty Grumble (Betty Bumhole), Harvest Festival favorites The Glitter Militia (The Shitter Militia), outrageous drag circus performer Solid Gold (Solid Load) and ‘spoken turd’ and musical interludes by ZooFi (PooPee).

The night will be hosted by Vanguard favorite Drew Fairley (Poo Fairley), with “a sweet release of tunes” from Mardi Gras favorite DJ Sveta (DJ Svenema).

This night is an opportunity to laugh with a crowd of fabulous queers in the luxurious environment of the Vanguard. Come down, bog in and unload with a night of low-brow shows at the end of your Farti Gras weekend.

Sunday 4th March 6.30pm @ The Vanguard, Newtown

Tickets available from The Vanguard website

Facebook Event

Poster illustration by Megan Oliver

Dirty Queer Magazine Tigger! Interview

February 19, 2012

Dirty Queer Magazine asked me to interview the “Godfather of Boylesque” Tigger! last year when he was in Sydney. You can check out my interview and much more in Issue 4, available online and in good bookstores.

Cash Savage Music Video featuring Lillian Starr

November 11, 2011

Take a moment to sit and watch this beautiful, atmospheric music video to Cash Savage’s new country single “Sooner Or Later”, produced and directed by Truce Films in Melbourne. It was released just before I set off overseas and has been warmly received with it’s combination of haunting music and lush, hi-resolution broken-down beauty. I had a lot of fun in this shoot… it was rather cathartic.


The Brag

October 14, 2011

Black Cherry 5th birthday cover for The Brag 10/10/11

New York / Paris Burlesque Festival Press

October 6, 2011

Some recent press about my shows at the New York Burlesque Festival and the Paris Burlesque Festival.

Time Out New York, 23rd September 2011












Sydney Morning Herald, Oct 5th 2011

Gallery Updated

October 2, 2011

Check out the updated gallery here

Amelia Earhart - Landed. Photo by Paul Scala and Jordan Graham

Jurassic Lounge at the Australian Museum

July 28, 2011

Marie Claire Magazine: June 2011

June 8, 2011

Vintage Fashion Shoot in Marie Claire Magazine, July 2011. pp141 “Love Me Tender.” Photography: Hugh Stewart. Produced by Pia Andersen.

(I am wearing my own spotty skirt and cashmere sweater.)

Marie Claire July 2011 pp 141

Painted Babes: Contemporary Art within Miss Burlesque Australia.

May 30, 2011

Last night I had the entertaining occasion of attending the “Miss Burlesque NSW” pageant: a heat in the second-ever “Miss Burlesque Australia” competition, hosted by the Bijou Entertainment Group. Burlesque competition is not new, with the title of Burlesque Hall of Fame “Miss Exotic World” being awarded to a single burlesque performer, recognised for their excellence and contribution to burlesque community each year in Las Vegas, in a tradition that spans names from Gypsy Rose Lee, Sally Rand, Josephine Baker, Bettie Page and Tempest Storm to modern-day burlesque heroes such as  Julie Atlas Muz, Angie Pontani and Dirty Martini. The Miss Exotic World competition has sprung up from within the heart of the worldwide burlesque community to honour its best since 1990 and is judged by judged by performers and leaders of the worldwide burlesque culture.

The new title “Miss Burlesque” by its name would seem to suggest a figurehead or representative for the burlesque community or standard.  In reality, I found this claim to be wildly distant from the truth as the majority of the competitors on this particular night had less than a couple of years of burlesque experiences under their belt, one with a performance history of as few as 2 burlesque shows in total. There was a notable lack of community stalwarts who were entered in the competition, (with the exception of the deserved winner Danica Lee, who has many years of experience and is an accomplished burlesque performer and producer in her own right.)

The format of the Miss Burlesque Australia pageant includes an evening gown parade, a classic routine, a neo-burlesque routine and a unique routine for the top five entrants who are selected to go through to the last round.

Watching the well-run format and chugging wine in my comfortable seat, far up the back of the packed-out Factory Theatre, I sat pondering all of these things… wondering and trying to articulate why I was not personally drawn to entering, why so few of my peers had considered it. I found myself ruminating that if Miss Exotic World could be likened to an inside industry awards night (like the Grammys are to music) then perhaps Miss Burlesque’s dash to the top is a little bit like Australian Idol. I wondered how it was that at these big events (not specific to this event) that there were always such a high percentage of audience members who were being exposed to burlesque for the first time. I also spent time with amazing burlesque babes and cheered on my feet, as loud as possible for these performers who were giving it their all on stage. I too, tweeted my two cents worth as the popular event rose to the local trend for the evening. I wondered how the trajectory is to pan out for the competition and its entrants. I also wondered who some of them are, as there were quite a few who I had never seen round the traps before. I found myself wishing them well, but was not in any way attracted to putting myself through that process.

And from within this competition structure came something unexpected… a performer who damn near blew my socks off.

Betty Grumble entered the competition in character. Yes, I hear you say, we all are in character on the stage… but I mean she was IN A CHARACTER for every part of the competition. She entered this pageant AS a pageant entrant and didn’t let the act drop for a second. She was a high glitz pageant princess, replete with blonde southern-style permed wig, spray tan, exaggerated candy coloured makeup, brilliant false teeth veneers and Lolita ankle socks. In the evening gown section, she wore a cupcake-style child’s pageant dress and white patent mary-jane shoes and walked with all of the awkward stiffness of a child pageant star. She employed the stylised cutie-patootie saccharine charm and confronting sexuality of the over-trussed dolly girl, Eden Wood.

For her “traditional” routine, she interpreted this as a horrific, patriotic flag-waving nationalist child-beast with reference to the blonde Midwestern little girls who are vehicles for their parents’ racist political agenda. Here, she was the perfect white Cronulla spawn of Pauline Hanson, keeping it ‘traditional’ and in no way ‘exotic.’ Amusingly, she incorporated golden age bump’ n ’grind moves into this routine, alongside her crude and preposterous and completely entertaining stripping.

Betty Grumble performed the ‘neo’ section of the competition as though it was the ‘talent’ section of a beauty pageant. She entered the stage as a child pageant pig in a private school uniform. Her tap dancing routine was actually quite skilled and sped up to a comical track as she imbibed (nay, skolled) Bacardi Breezers from her schoolbag and eventually vomited glitter all over her bare torso and six piggy nipples.

I loved the conviction that Betty Grumble took into this pageant, fulfilling the criteria on her own terms. Makeup is good, therefore more makeup must be better. You want a pageant gown? Tick. You want tradition? Talent? Tick. She was ticking those boxes so hard she tore a hole right through that judging paper. Around me, the crowd were going wild. A massive response – wild cheering, horror, revulsion, choking and raucous laughter. Miss Burlesque Sydney had turned into Toddlers and Tiaras on meth and we had one more interval to go before the final round.

Needless to say, the controversial Ms Grumble didn’t make it through to the top five. Regrettably so, as I was gagging to see her “unique” routine. The mind boggles at where she would have gone to from there. I had never met the girl but I instantly felt like I could be her stage mum.  I had to tone my excitement down a notch because I was just buzzing with the realisation of what I had witnessed.

I consider her entry in this pageant as an amazing conceptual art intervention. She made burlesque of the pageant. I felt it was one of those brilliant moments that lifted the roof and shone a light on the construction of one’s value of “appropriate” performance, the arbitrary nature of imposing criteria from the outside, the amazing range of physical performance that can share the name “burlesque” and the power of the audience’s response to persuasive and unsettling performance, even if they don’t know what to make of it.

Betty Grumble (AKA Emma Maye Gibson) is a compelling performer — a consummate in her own right. A quick google-stalk reveals that she has performed burlesque at major music and performance festivals, amongst other places, supporting radical artists such as Peaches and creating and directing burlesque and performance art with her group What Makes Men Blush (O yes, NOW I remember…) and has graduated with honours from Sydney’s COFA. She has an evident lifelong background in dance and has trained in physical theatre at Siti Theatre Company in NYC. I am looking forward to seeing more of her dazzling performance, intelligent ideas and powerful, hot physicality on stage in the future.

And on a closing note… if I were in the jury, I would have handed out the awards as thus:

Miss Burlesque NSW – Danica Lee

High-Glitz Grand Supreme Fucked-Up Pageant Princess – Betty Grumble

Anddddd… (though she was not in the competition, nor should she need to be)… Up at the top through nothin’ but hard work, experience, creativity and brilliant talent…

Australia’s QUEEN of Burlesque, (long live) Imogen Kelly. May she perform outstandingly at her first ever attempt at the Miss Exotic World title in Las Vegas this week.    Salut.

%d bloggers like this: