The isolation created by COVID-19, especially in the early days, was a challenging environment for artists. Some cancelled tours, some holed themselves away to make albums, and some—like Saskatchewan’s own S.E. Grummett (they/them) —spent their days reworking a theatre show while stuck in Australia. A show, that thanks to Creative Saskatchewan’s grants, was able to be produced at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Grummett, known as Grumms, is the head of queer theatre company Scantily Glad Theatre. The show they were working on, called Something in the Water, began its life as part of an artist residency in Washington state before premiering at the 2019 Saskatoon Fringe. It’s a show, rooted in Grumms’ own lived experience, that has an ear-catching elevator pitch.
“It’s a show that’s inspired by my coming out as transgender, told through me turning into a giant squid monster with tentacle penises.”
That squid monster, Grumms says, is an opportunity for the audience to settle into an experience where they can chuckle at the absurdity of society’s expectations when it comes to gender binaries and expectations.
“We can all laugh at how ridiculous it is that my squid monster has to disguise itself as a masculine man, or put on a dress in high heels to try and get into the women’s bathroom. And I wanted to make something that was empowering and funny and accessible for everybody, and especially for queerdo weirdos in my audience.”
Travelling to Winnipeg or Regina, where the show toured in the runup to the Edinburgh festival, is one thing, but travelling across the world to the Edinburgh Fringe – the largest arts festival in the world – is another thing entirely. Grumms says that the funding provided by Creative Saskatchewan was foundational to the tour’s success.
“Sometimes when I would get overwhelmed during the beast that is Edinburgh, I would think back to the Regina shows and how sweet and wonderful they were. So the Tour Support grant helped us do that as well as paid for some of our travel expenses to get to Edinburgh.”
But that wasn’t the only funding Scantily Glad received. A Live Performing Arts Production grant allowed for more live video work to be integrated into the show, among some other changes, and the Market Export and Development grant allowed the company to hire a publicist, something that isn’t as needed on the Canadian fringe circuit according to Grumms, but is vital once you get to the UK.
“Artists were having a lot of trouble getting reviews, but thankfully, because we had a publicist, we got a lot of media coverage.”
Because audiences are spoiled for choice with over 4,000 different shows at the festival, the fact that Grumms and their team were able to sell-out close to 50% of their season is a tremendous accomplishment. Their time at the festival also meant that they could build a relationship with their venue, a relationship that looks to be paying off with future opportunities, as the company returns to Summerhall for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe season with their new show, Creepy Boys.
However, Something in the Water doesn’t just have a life as an adult-only show. Since that premiere in 2019, the show has also found another life with an adapted version for kids. That adapting process was supported by three local artists and is an endeavour that Grumms and their collaborators feel is vital for Saskatchewan kids to engage with.
“I do a lot of outreach when I tour to queer organizations in a city. And I would get back, ‘Oh, amazing, we have this youth group that’s like 10 to 17 that would love to come!’ And then I would have to turn them away because of the adult-content. So I was seeing such a need for queer youth programming specifically for, preteens and teens.”
Grumms also sees parallels between the discussions about transition, identity, and societal binaries present in their show and the general feeling of being young and trying to figure out their identity.
“I wanted to adapt this to a kid’s version because I think that the spirit of the show, and the puppets and the visuals and the story, all really translate to that sort of [feeling of] being 10 and being just excited and frightened by your changing body.”
As Grumms as their team build out more work, they’re seeing their hard work pay dividends and allowing for more ease in production.
“As a company, going to these bigger festivals means that we can stop touring and producing ourselves and being on the fringe…, and not have to scrape and claw as indie fringe artists all the time.”
By John Loeppky
If you’d like to find out more information about Grumms and Scantily Glad Theatre, including booking them for a performance opportunity, you can do so via their website.