Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 4 – 8, 2021
Co-creators and Performers: Elizabeth Burton, Betty Grumble, Aaron Manhattan
Images by Joseph Mayers
Striptease artist Elizabeth Burton’s career began in the late 1960’s. When she discovered Go-go dancing, doors opened for Burton to travel the world, allowing her to meet people of all kinds, and to put her stamp on an artform that never ceases to be subversive. Now at the grand age of 73, Burton continues to create, and in Goddess: The Elizabeth Burton Story, takes to the stage once again, not only to usher us into the indulgent realm of exotic performance, but also to share anecdotes and wisdom, in a way only someone who has truly lived, can do.
Fearless and boundary-breaking, Burton’s stories are not all triumphant. Instances of tragedy and misfortune are many, as is the case with people who take roads less travelled, but these recollections are told with an astounding sense of objectivity, almost counter-theatrical in approach. Burton is wistful for sweet memories, but it is with a sense of duty, and sometimes humour, that she brings up trauma. There is little wallowing, and certainly no performative pensiveness for dramatic effect. It is clear that the show is intended to uplift, but there is no denying its capacity to devastate. The truth resonates powerfully, no matter how the storyteller wishes to present her account of events.
To have a living legend at close proximity, especially one who seems incapable of pretension or any hint of defensiveness, is to come in contact with the divine. In a culture that persistently celebrates youth, the meaning of time is lost on us. We are taught to cultivate desirous visions of ourselves at half our age, rather than think about what we could be when twice our age. Burton can reminisce about things sordid or wholesome, extraordinary or mundane; there is no end to the details she can offer up, in this attempt to encapsulate an existence too immense, but of greatest value is to look into her eyes, and to see with absolute certainty, that dark as this world can be, everything is simply going to be all right.
Providing on stage support are Betty Grumble and Aaron Manhattan, both looking like faithful disciples to the esteemed one, on hand not only to prompt for stories and to help illustrate them, but also to represent meaningfully, a sense of community. The image being created is anti-establishment and queer. Goddess is about a woman who breaks the rules in the most profound manner. It talks about a person’s worth, not in ordinary terms of success and status, but through the re-framing of one woman’s radical definition of selfhood, Goddess dismantles our priorities as a culture, and adjusts our social values, to one that more accurately reflects the important things in life. We also learn that there is nowhere more edifying, than from our queer elders, especially those emancipated from so many pointless pursuits of conventionality, that we can uncover those very important things in life.
Hierarchies are only of benefit to those on top. This is painfully obvious, yet we live as though unaware, completely invested in systems that exploit our participation at the lower rungs. We are required to endlessly obey, in the faith that rewards are assured, and that those on top are playing by the same rules. Both are empirically false. Goddess provides inspiration, for each of us to search for ways to exist on the outside. Fulfilment can never be dictated, it must only be discovered independently. Elizabeth Burton discovered a love of herself, and today altogether, we bask in her divine glory.