Hysteria – Chelsea McGuffin On A New Circus Show Challenging The Definition Of Normality

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'Hysteria' 'Hysteria' Image © Morgan Roberts

Internationally-renowned performance artist and leading circus director Chelsea McGuffin seeks to challenge the definition of normal while highlighting the importance of embracing mental wellness in her brand-new show ‘Hysteria’ at Backbone's Neon Green in Brisbane.


Described as a contemporary circus piece, the show is inspired (in part) by Chelsea’s own experiences and also feature real life experiences from women who have been hospitalised due to preconceived notions about their mental wellness.

“Over the past few years, I have struggled with my own mental wellness and witnessed people in my life facing some big challenges. I have been confronted by the public health system and the things in place which are there to support us at our most vulnerable times. The word 'Hysteria' was used at different times for different reasons and really set me off on a journey on what it is to be 'normal' and who are the people that get to choose what normal is,” Chelsea says, speaking of the show’s inspiration.

“['Hysteria' is] a coming together. It's a circus. It's a place of healing and a place to express. It's a rethink of what it is to experience emotional uprising in yourselves. It's a space to share stories. It's a performance which I hope will allow an audience to take a journey and leave feeling like they have witnessed something full of truth, hope and opened up something personal for them.”

Chelsea hopes the show’s themes will speak to audiences (women especially) on a deeper level, particularly given the uncertainty and constant change many Australians have experienced as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

“I think women, who we are primarily looking at in 'Hysteria', have always suffered emotional repression and isolation for various reasons. COVID has isolated us all and the stress of this has had strong impacts,” she says.

“Sharing stories is so important because it normalises our experiences, helps healing, brings us together, allows the emotional weight to be shared. Now more than ever we need to share our stories and help people connect and reinvent who we want to be.”

“The creative arts has been hit hard by COVID. There are so many things we now need to use our platforms for to create change. I hope 'Hysteria' offers a place for this,” Chelsea continues.

‘Hysteria’ marks Chelsea’s first time collaborating with singer-songwriter Jackie Marshall whose unique style of music adds another layer of depth to the show.

“Jackie has been so great to collaborate with on this project. She has such sensitivity towards the material and has found ways to support these stories with voice and sound which has brought them into the work. She understands the intention and is very willing to stand in the unknown and wait for the answers to arrive,” Chelsea describes.

The show uses portable headphones to immerse the audience in the emotional power of the stories and encourage them to view the work from multiple perspectives, a technique Chelsea hopes will further heighten the emotional impact of the show.

“I think this is going to allow the audience to be in a very private experience and allow them to take their own journey, it feels pretty magic to sit in such an inner-city environment, under the stars and witness a very emotional power work. It's not something you get to do often and I feel it really adds to the work in an exciting way. This is a performance to experience and I think having choice in how you experience it is really important.”

‘Hysteria’ is the first of four brand-new performance pieces to be held outdoors on Backbone’s (Brisbane) Neon Green and plays 27 July-1 August.

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