“Something in the Water”is a solo-show created in 2019 by theatre artist and performer S.E. Grummet that explores their journey coming out as transgender and non-binary.
Grummet, also called Grumms, first performed their multi-award winning show at the 2019 Saskatoon Fringe. “Something in the Water” is a queering of classic monster movies that serves as a learning opportunity and entertainment for the audience. But before their show made its debut in Australia, they had to get through a big hurdle.
In January 2020, Grumms went to Australia with their partner to attend the large Fringe Festivals in the area. They saw the trip as an opportunity to experience Australia’s festivals and meet people outside of Canada.
“[The festivals there] are about four times bigger than the ones in Canada,” Grumms said. “For scale, Edmonton Fringe is 250 shows and Adelaide is 1,200 shows.”
The last week of the 2020 Fringe Festival, the COVID-10 pandemic started impacting Grumms’s business.
“All of my work for the year dried up. In about three days, I went from having a fully booked summer to absolutely nothing,” Grumms said. “It was chaos.”
Eventually, Melbourne and the rest of Australia were free of COVID-19 and after that, Grumms saw the opportunity to perform their live show at the Adelaide Fringe Festival.
“Something in the Water” was sold out for the whole season with a total of 16 showings — 12 in the original version and the rest adapted to fit younger audiences. Grumms says that the adult version was like the kid’s version but more “condescending.”
When making the kid’s version, Grumms had to age up the tone so that children didn’t feel coddled, while keeping the content appropriate for their age. In the end, the goal of showing themes that include “gender, diversity, coming out and feeling different” was the same for both versions of the show.
“The funny thing is that the adult version very much plays on the aesthetic of a kid’s show. Sort of like Dora-the-Explorer-type of audience interaction like, ‘Does anyone see something we can use?’ Very condescending tone, which adults find ironic and funny, and we can play into that,” Grumms said.
There are also parts where the audience has to yell whether that’s normal or not normal. One scene that they do shows a Ken and Barbie puppet going on a date.
The show’s style is multi-dimensional. Grumms describes the show as a queer, clown, physical puppet show. It consists of a projection of a comic book, that they then interact with using little paper puppets as the visual core.
“I wanted to make a show that unpacks societal expectations of gender and non-binary,” Grumms said. “For me, coming out felt like anything that wasn’t a feminine binary was ‘other’ and ‘not normal’, and therefore, must be banished from society.”
Grumm says that after graduating from the acting program at the University of Saskatchewan in 2016, their frustration with the lack of representation and opportunities for queer and trans artists grew. Grumms began Scantily Glad Theatre, an LGBTQIA+ theatre company that works to promote queer artists and stories.
“I started making my own work because as a trans person and as a queer person, I didn’t see anybody like me on stage — I didn’t see any roles for me,” Grumms said. “It just felt so wrong. I felt like I was a bad actor because I wasn’t feminine enough.”
From this grew an initiative to create work, primarily because it was the only way they could get work.
Grumms says that the success of “Something in the Water” at the festival is because trans people want to be seen and supported.
“I wanted to empower the audience, to show that maybe being different is beautiful and maybe it’s the thing that can save us and that being ‘normal’ isn’t what it’s cracked up to be,” Grumms said.