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  • Petar Brkovic

Grumms: Fringe helped me find my voice

On Thursday (19.00), Friday (19.00) and Saturday (19.30) you will be able to witness Something in the Water by S.E. Grummett. In the Atalante venue, just around the corner from the beautiful Skansen Kronan, Grumms will show you and make you laugh while transforming into a squid monster, a monster they were afraid they will become if they came out as a transgender. Tickets are available here.

Now they help members of the queer community enjoy their work at the Fringe and witness art for free, through an Accessible Ticketing Campaign. We sat down with Grummett to find out more about the campaign, the experience of performing at the Edinburgh Fringe and to see what is behind the performance that won the best theatre award at Adelaide Fringe in 2021.

Hello Grumms, we are happy you will be able to perform at Gothenburg Fringe Festival, but tell us how was the Edinburgh Fringe? How did people react to the performance?

Grumms: Edinburgh was full on. There were 4000 shows at the festival. The Festival lasts for a month and you're doing a show every single day, so it's exhausting and hard, but also very rewarding. It's been a long-time dream of mine to take a show there because it's the first and biggest Fringe. It went really well for being my first year and being, you know, a little nobody from Saskatchewan. We were nominated for Theatre Award with the Offies, a London-based awards thing. We've got a lot of really good reviews. And most importantly, the core community sort of found the show. And that's what is most important for me, to reach those people, for them to come and see the show and then actually be excited about it.

How did people react?

Grumms: I think specifically the queer community really loved it, I think there is always a need for empowering queer stories and queer comedy specifically and something that is undeniably trans. I think that is so needed by the trans community. And they also felt that way. And I felt that from the audience.

How about the cultural differences of the audience when doing the show?

Grumms: It's always different taking a comedy to different places. Because what's funny in one place is not funny in another, even if it's an English-speaking country. Between Canada, Australia, The States, and the UK, that I've toured, it's always interesting how I must adapt what I'm doing in really small and subtle ways to get a laugh. In the first couple of shows, you're always finding each other, like the audience is figuring out, what is this? And I'm figuring out who are you, what makes you laugh, and what are you drawn to. And because the show has some interactive bits, nothing like pulling someone up on the stage, but we play everything as a group. We play a game called "normal, not normal" where the audience gets to decide what is normal and what is not normal. And I get them to yell it out. For instance, with UK audiences, I kind of had to take a stricter approach, like in a boarding school. I'd be like, we're gonna play, we're playing now. As with Canadians, I had to be more of a kindergarten teacher. I'm like, it’s okay, come along. And so it's interesting to just find those small cultural differences

What do you expect from the audience in Gothenburg or Sweden in general?

Grumms: I have no idea. I think there is a wonderful queer community there. One of our staff in Edinburgh is Swedish and they are so lovely. And I got to meet them and become friends with them. They've kind of given me a bit of a rundown. I'm not worried. I think Swedes have a desire for some weird stuff.

I believe there's going to be many internationals. This is quite an international city, even though it's not that big. But since it is an international festival, I think it will be a good mix of Swedes and internationals. However, I would like to find out more about the Accessible Ticketing Project. Can you tell us more about it?

Grumms: So we've been running this since July this year. We did a tour, we did Canadian festivals, we did the Winnipeg Fringe, and then we did Edinburgh. And so we've been running it for all of those. And we're, I think we're going to try and continue to do it in the future. Basically, we're trying to raise money so that we can buy tickets and donate tickets to queer and trans young people in the community that we're performing in, so they can come and see the show. That's because, I've also been broke, and I couldn't go to see theatre, and I really wanted to. So it’s really important to me that those people get to see the show and get to see something that's empowering for queer, trans voices.

I never want the cost of a ticket to be a barrier to someone who wants to come see the show. So far, we've been able to donate about 100 tickets from our seasons to queer and trans folks in each of the communities, in Winnipeg and Edinburgh, we're trying to do the same in Gothenburg, and then we're going to Stockholm Fringe right after. So, we're trying to donate at least 10 tickets to every performance to any sort of queer and trans young person. I have an artistic associate that's reaching out to queer trans organisations to see if they have community members who want to take us up on it. Sometimes, we leave 10 tickets at the door under some name. If you want them, come get them. We've also posted in queer Facebook groups to see if anybody wants them. So, we're doing it both through organisations, and then also sort of underground, grassroots, reaching out to the community as best we can. So we're going put that forward towards Gothenburg as well. So, I think right now we have 20 tickets for both festivals (Gothenburg and Stockholm).

According to the LGBTQ+ safety index, Sweden comes second, after Canada, in terms of safety. Gothenburg has West Pride. How do you feel about performing in Gothenburg? Have you ever maybe been here before? In Sweden perhaps. Did you establish communication with some organisations here? And did you get help from some of them?

Grumms: Haha, we win! (referring to LGBTQ+ safety index). Yeah, I've never performed in Gothenburg or Sweden before, I am really excited. And this was a great reason to come and see Sweden and experience that and I'm really looking forward to it. Bobbi (their partner) is right now talking with some queer organisations. As soon as we started chatting with Gothenburg Fringe, one of the first things they said was we have a really vibrant queer community. That always makes me feel good going into a community like that. At the same time, I also think it's always so important to go to places that don't have a visible queer community because I think they need it, even more, they need to know that queer people exist and that there are trans people out there and that you can be a gender beyond one of the two binaries. It seems very similar to Canada, in terms of how queerness is accepted. That's always my favourite part of tour. I joke and I say that I have two trans godmothers in every place and they sort of take me under the wing and tell me about the city. And I'm excited to find those in Gothenburg and if you know any, send them to me, haha.

I've read the performance is inspired by your experience of coming out as a trans and non-binary person. I'm generally curious, because I haven't met many trans people and probably never met a non-binary person. So I'm curious, how did that go?

Grumms: In the context of the show, I was really curious about how that experience of coming out made me feel. Does this thing make me a monster, does being trans, being non-binary, sort of denying this gender that was put on me and that I was raised in for so long, make me a monster, does it make me terrible, and unlovable. I was really curious about that as an idea and making a show out of that. And I think it also dovetails into how trans people are portrayed in the media. So, it's both my personal experience as well as like a larger social context of trans people and how they were treated as if we were out to get you. And it's not that we're just out here trying to exist.

I was also really inspired by puppets. And that's why the show involves puppets and puppetry, and it's a big part of what I love. Because right around the time of my coming out, I was touring with this children's puppet show. I went to theatre school, acting school, like in university, and I never really connected with the parts I was cast in. They were very gendered. And I wasn't good at them. And I thought, am I a bad actor, a bad performer? Why don't I enjoy performing? They would put me in high heels, and I could barely walk in them. And I looked like a horse in a dress, or I should say, I didn't look like a horse in a dress, I felt like a horse and a dress. And it felt wrong. And then I got to tour this children's puppet show. And I got to perform every gender under the sun, I got to perform creatures that didn't have genders, I got to perform objects. You know, you're just a little puppet or a toaster. That toaster doesn't have a gender, it just is a toaster. That was really freeing for me, I finally got to perform things that weren't just femininity, I wasn't having to just perform femininity on stage. So that was really wonderful. I think that planted a seed that grew. And it made me think like, what if I'm, what if I'm not a woman? What if I'm not that and I'm not bad at it? So then I came out to friends and family.

And I think it was an adjustment for them as it is with a lot of people. But still having this fear of, am I doing something wrong? Am I a monster? Am I evil? How are people going to react? And so, the show sort of looks at my own feelings of my coming out, as well as what I expected from the larger world and how the larger world treats trans people. So that's why in the show, I turned into a giant squid monster because I very much felt like a giant squid monster. I wanted to look at that monster transformation through a trans narrative.

How did the combination of video projection puppetry and physical comedy happen? Why the mix of those three types and do you the wish maybe to explore other types of performances in the future?

Grumms: Yeah, I wanted to be a filmmaker, so I made a lot of video things. And then I sort of fell into theatre. And I've dabbled a lot with projection design, like pre-recorded projection design. And I was really curious about using live feed video, puppets and paper puppets. I come from what I call a comic book dynasty. So, my uncle is a comic artist, and my dad's a big comic nerd and I grew up going to comic stores. In the show, I wanted to have this very comic booky aesthetic, it kind of fits with this monster movie Creature Feature, comic book. So, all the puppets in the show are sort of 2-D, paper puppets with a camera shining down. And so, I was really interested in exploring how that can interact with me as the performer and other larger puppets.

I think object theatre is this wonderful opportunity to move beyond the gender of the performer. I'm no longer how the audience perceives me, I am now a squid puppet, I am now the puppets I'm manipulating. And so, I'm really interested in exploring that and extending a performer’s body beyond what the audience perceives of them. I am really interested in using more of that, more sound material and a lot more. I'm working on a new solo show that uses even more live-feed video and sort of collaging different camera sources together. It's sort of exploring trans bodies, and exploring how we, as an audience perceive trans bodies.

If art has the power to take us to the higher states, out of normal senses, feeding our hungry spirits with something we consider meaningful, then what is that, "that meaningful" you would like to convey to the audience or you would like to make them feel?

Grumms: I feel like we don't get asked very often these questions. For me, I think of art as a larger concept. In my show, art is playing with the metaphor and how can we use metaphor to look at a subject in a new way. I think clown, comedy and puppets give us a wonderful back way into a lot of things that get politicised, trans identities for example. I think it's a beautiful gift that through art and through metaphor, and through comedy, I'm able to take a story that even the most cisgendered, straight, those who are unfamiliar with the queer community, can still understand what it's like for me to come out. And I wanted to make something that is accessible. I think metaphor can do that. And so we can all laugh at how ridiculous it is that the squid monster has to put on a dress and high heels to try and sneak into the women's bathroom.

I think that art has this beautiful opportunity of expanding to a higher place, to a different place, to play a metaphor, to let our emotional parts come first. That's the thing I love about theatre and that's the thing I love about making theatre, being able to get an audience to laugh with me, then you're one step closer to having seen me from my perspective.

Very interesting, thank you. Last question, what is Fringe for you?

I love Fringe. And I grew up as an artist on Fringe. I'm still growing up. But Fringe Festivals helped me find my voice. It helped me to try new things and put art on stage in a way that like no one else was going to. To let me test ideas, put them on a stage and have people see them. I've been doing Fringe for six years now. This summer will be my fifth year touring on the Fringe. I started on the Canadian circuit, which is very similar to Gothenburg where they have smaller festivals and DIY shows. Oftentimes, everything in a show will be made by the artist on stage and that to me is so special, you get to see work that really has throughout it - the fingerprints of the artist.

I also love the community that Fringe builds of these weird little artists that tour from city to city and try and sell their theatrical wares to a new community. I've met some of my best friends on the Fringe, I met my partner on the Fringe, and it holds a very near and dear place in my heart. I'm very excited to come to a new one and come to Gothenburg's Fringe and Stockholm and sort of get a feel what is the Nordic circuit.

Thank you very much and good luck with performances in the upcoming Fringe!

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