Are You Scared of Me? Ghosting Part 6

Corban Estate Arts Centre, Henderson, Auckland

09/07/2011 - 10/07/2011

Production Details


A musical by Sean Curham Entertainment. Ghosting Part 6

A psychic, a dancer and a choir 
A documentary, a musical, an adventure

Guided by the divine ‘Maureen’ a 200kg psychic medium, featuring Touch Compass principle Suzanne Cowan and the remarkable musicality and showmanship of the award winning Sweet Adelines choir the Greater Auckland Chorus, this is a work of frightening joy, horrified anxiety and rapturous sound.

Cars, a mihi to Jonathan Richman, exploding balloons, divine interventions, a doll called ‘Sally Happy Talk’ and dance, dance, dance – Are you scared of me? is a musical in the manner of Mulholland Drive.

A celebration of false memories, perfect pitch and small talk.

Sean Curham’s work (Bedrock, Greenland, Scary Cabinet and Speedy Horse) is always unexpected. Previous shows have featured 20 cubic metres of cotton wool, two tonnes of icing sugar and salt and a Cook Strait swim in a paddling pool. He is generally viewed by the arts community as a well-kept secret (if a little odd).

"Are You Scared Of Me?" promises to be a highlight of the Ghosting Series with those who appreciate the traditions of theatre firmly in mind. 

Performers: Suzanne Cowan, Sean Curham, Anna Bate, Kristian Larsen, Mike Holland with 80 members of the Sweet Adelines and the Greater Auckland Chorus 

90 mins

...the weirdest thing I have ever seen

Review by Jack Gray 10th Jul 2011

Tonight, my friend and I went to see a show out in the Wild West. It rained very hard which caused us to stop at the side of the road. It was hard to see and a little scary at times, but we knew we’d get there eventually.

Perhaps in hindsight, I could also say the same about the general gist of this show?

The performance at Corban Estate Centre, Henderson, takes place in a massive industrial looking factory/hall space previously occupied by Mau Dance Company. A loud heater that looks and sounds like a rocket engine provides warmth for the show’s duration, warming us and also providing an aural backdrop. 

There is a makeshift bar and the audience is seated in a semicircular fashion on chairs stacked on bleachers. A man in a suit sits with his back to the audience in front of a huge scrim backdrop; the stage is littered with microphones, beer crates, wires and cords, consoles, flowers and video cameras, and a woman dressed in black prowls to and fro, assisting people.

It is an eclectic audience. Young, funky, alternative, artsy, some Pacific and Maori, lots of elderly folk, and some dance professionals. Everyone expects something – but none know what type of strange concoction will be served. 

The ‘show’ begins.” Sean Curham enters in crisp shirt and tie, shifting selected audience members to different seats. One man, who is moved away from his friends for the show’s duration, looks completely resistant and annoyed throughout.

The woman in black walks across the stage with a sign saying “Introductions”… and we sit, waiting, looking around, watching one other. I make a note saying something about how interesting looking at nothing can be.

I then notice in the darkness, the movement of a shape that looks conspicuously like a car, pushed in silently by two suited men and driven by a woman. The headlights blind some of the audience like possums. It sits there waiting like we do. 

Then a whole bunch of women come in through the door. All dressed in flamingo pink layers and wearing spangly, sparkling earrings. They are a mixture of ages, mostly older, mostly white. They look like ladies from the RSA. I am quite charmed and slightly alarmed as well. They paused to put on silver heels; some need help to buckle them up. (A man in the audience behind me says that perhaps they had arrived late due to the rain, rationalising why we have sat there waiting.)

The woman in the car (Suzanne Cowan) emerges eventually and sits herself in a wheel chair. She wears a tartan cape over a furry vest, and tartan trousers. Though quite becoming, I wonder if this choice is perhaps a red herring.

Attaching a wheelie wooden board contraption to her chair, she pulls it behind her to a position at the centre of the space. Sean Curham enters briskly and lies down on the wheelie platform and matter-of-factly places Suzanne atop his pelvis and lays her back onto his chest. They are handed microphones to speak into while he pushes them around the space on the board.
– Hello
– Hi
– What’s your relationship to Sean?
– How long will you be here?
– Can I ask you 10 awkward questions?
– Can I ask you 7 awkward questions?
– Do you think believing in God will help?
– Do you pray?
– Why?
– My life is better than yours because I can feel my legs.

The back and forth dialogue is hard to hear and focus on. It has a strange combination of emotional detachment and close physical connection, giving an odd sense of something awkward and awry.

The programme note says their goal is to explore the question of “difference” – as a means to get away from thinking of people in terms of their similarities, addressing questions of equity and justice based on a sense of difference not sameness. 

The man in the suit is still sitting with his back towards us. His type of concentrated nothingness is permeating everything. 

The seventy members of the Greater Auckland Chorus who are seated in amongst the audience then rise to mouth a song without vocalising. A physically interpretive type of harmony chorus, it is interesting to see how bizarre silent singing can be. Next they sing several songs their normal way, with voice and gestures, and a conductor, and settle us into the genre. The woman in black shows a sign to cue each song. 

The man in the suit then stands up, still facing the back and introduces us to some type of psychic-medium-live-talk-show. He says his (unseen) spirit guide Maureen is ready to answer any questions from the audience. The publicity listed a divine 200kg psychic medium, so I suppose using our imagination is a good way to resolve that expectation. 

The freewheeling babbling host ramps up, and live video feed of the audience guinea pigs is projected on the screen as various people are asked questions by a roving reporter man.

I start to feel like I am in a weird space. I sort of don’t recall the details for a certain period of time. I am seated behind a quartet of the chorus and can’t see what’s going on. The light shines in my eyes. Noise. Rabble. Vague shapes on the screen. Perhaps I am channelling? 

Later there is a question about what the chorus really want to know from the spirit world. And they sing a version of ‘How much is that doggy in the window?’ replacing some of the words with Bulldog, Terrier and Chihuahua. By this stage the audience has well and truly crossed over.

The last phase of the show has Curham counting obsessively to a modern soft rock song, while Cowan slowly draws a chain attaching her to a massive Trojan Horse-like A Frame, pulling her slowly upwards to a standing position. The choir moves out to face the audience, lighting their path with little torches and then hum ‘Imagine’. Some are given beer crates with pillows to sit on, by the woman in black.

At this point, I wonder what they make of this experience? 

Part of the objective of this project was to “not make work that is precious and removed (and sits in a gallery somewhere) but instead to work in a way that is connected to the wider community.”

There is another sequence with Sean violently shaking a chair as he weaves his way around the stage to take a seat on a swing hanging from the A frame. More bright lights blind the audience. Cut to the end result: Cowan and Curham swinging happily from the A Frame, while a video plays and the chorus sings ‘Walking On Sunshine’ as the finale.

As we leave the theatre, mumbles of “The Greater Auckland Chorus made that show” or “That was the weirdest thing I have ever seen” fell about the space like leaves in a storm.

I found the show presented several conundrums.

The performance was publicised as “A Musical by Sean Curham Entertainment”. Obviously a facetious by-line as there really isn’t any dance, or emotional content – love, humour, pathos and anger – communicated through this particular ‘story line’ to provide an integrated whole. Though I did laugh at times, it was more out of shock than enjoyment or amusement.

The show was billed as “part documentary as Suzanne’s mobility informs the work.” I have always found Suzanne’s dance performances for Touch Compass to be both highly inspirational and joyous. This show however seems to highlight a distinct physical inability and an emotional dissatisfaction. 

So suitably challenged, what inroads can I make as a viewer to connect to this work?

The programme states that the six events of Curham’s Ghosting series exist as independent projects (this show is Part 6). Each sets out to explore concerns in a variety of situations, culminating in a performance outcome, as well as challenging and revitalising the work and finding a new pragmatism.

What is pragmatism in this context, I wonder? One definition is an American philosophy centred on the linking of practice and theory; a process where theory is extracted from practice, and applied back to practice to form what is known as intelligent practice.

The friend I went with has seen some of the other Ghosting series and says this is the most fully realised of the lot. She refers to a statement in the programme that says: “So the aims are serious but we want people to have a good time, and to be challenged. It should be fun, a little scary and at times even beautiful.” She says she felt all of those things and so thought it had achieved itself.

Yes – it was a work of “frightening joy, horrified anxiety and rapturous sound” but as a first time Ghosting viewer, I am just plain lost and a little confounded. No easy feat for someone who has really seen a heck of a lot of stuff. 

We quickly high-tail out of there, a little eager for a soothing hot chocolate to warm us up after weathering such a dark show in stormy conditions. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 



alexa wilson July 17th, 2011

Here we go : 2nd take at this sentence :P We are children wanting to play (performance art is often playful), we are adults wanting to be comforted or satisfied (by spectacle), whilst being endlessly uncomfortable and often disatisfied!- by our own expecations. We are wanting to fit in and connect when often we misunderstand in life, in art, in our most intimate relations. The piece was referencing Grease- a staple romantic musical among things- between suzanne (disabled dancer) and sean. Chucking all this into a spectacle was meant to be funny i rexies. The choir in the audience in your face blocking views was part of some discomfort with intimacy. We are unsure whether to laugh or take their songs in earnest. We are given cues on how to respond and feel by anna. We are made to laugh by kristian and mike. We are blinded by lights and constantly invited to feel whilst being pushed away from feeling.

Why should art be expected to be tidy and comfortable when life is not? This is a big question and ongoing for me in the tense relationship between the expectations of contemporary dance convention and experimental- which is often undiscipline-bound... of course this stuff is not for everyone. Tis the path of the course and as anna says a brave one. ;

alexa wilson July 17th, 2011

Experimental dance rules (biased of course)> Thanks Sean for a rich and next level series Ghosting 1-6, a culmination of his 5 year MA research in Spatial design at AUT, ending with this one- Are you scared of me? This work for me was questioning expectation and intimacy, deconstructing while utilising conventions of spectacle to communicate the discomfort of difference. I love how it's experimental dance that gets everyone all heated up on debate- it has a passionate following of equally considered individuals as the work itself. It is not a personal debate its about discussing the artform of choreography.. and its cool to korero people. Thank you all.

Loving the community meets experimental high art factor (of the entire series really- but here a choir), beth says its a play and others presume they're coming to a dance. Expectations uncomfortably rerouted. A stormy night. What are we looking at? Art. We are children wanting freedom- disclosing our own and sean's fetishes, we are adults always craving comfort and satisfaction- whilst endlessly facing discomfort and difference in ourselves and others. That's what i saw here in this work> where appreciation of alienation is a relatively subjective experience. Did i appreciate that? I dunno. I didn't find the work weird i found it deeply ironic. Sean is a master of irony.

We are lucky to have his brain and skills in our midst, cool to see the outcome of his new directions in getting fine arts academic on it. Whether this final piece within a very interesting series failed or succeeded is fairly hard to assess as its rules are de-conventional- which is generally the prerequisite for experimental art in my own experienco, which largely needs to be considered from this framework when re/viewed rather than marginalised within the conventional nuclear family of contemporary dance. When people question what they saw and have a bit of a process around it- i get excited woop... i go what are we doing here? We are making art. It's not always a comforting experience, its the performance of life, life as spectacle as art.. as experience. Sometimes its hilarious, others thought provoking. Then maybe a few people get bored. While others are bored of conventional dance. This work perhaps needed to be bigger in scale and more developed to realise the full potentinal of its investigations- imagine that. And thank you for all the reflections community of difference. We are lucky to even have community, let alone people pushing the boundaries within it. I am excited. :)

Eden Mulholland July 15th, 2011

Oh man sounds so so good.  Melbourne please

John Smythe July 14th, 2011

Thanks Derek - I have removed the comment you refer to because it is unfounded gossip and potentially libellous. (It is very rare for me to resort to such action, being fundamentally opposed to censorship, but scurrillous rumour does not rate as 'free speech' here.)

What is particularly good about Jack's review is that it has provoked some really valuable contributions from participants - which are rare, and all the more welcome for that. 

Derek Tearne July 14th, 2011

Well this is weird.  I feel almost certain that Jack Gray was there at Ghosting, sitting next to me, perhaps even taking notes.

This comment about the reviewer, credentials and presence is surely either about a different reviewer or a different show.  Either way one has to ask what on earth it is doing here.  

Ghosting part 6 was a thought provoking exploration of dissonance, disparity and mistrust/misunderstanding of the unknown/other (among other things). This divisive ad hominem comment seems somewhat at odds with the issues ghosting provokes us to explore.

Ghosting as a series is some serious experimental art.  Some of it was, arguably, weird.  But then, it would have been weird if an exploration such as this hadn't seemed weird.  Weird is good. 

Thanks, Sean for a marvellous exploration.   

Jack Gray July 14th, 2011

 For the record - I didn't actually want to post the review and felt challenged in the fact that the dance community is a small and vicious little beast. I knew there would be a fallout because people are so sensitive for many reasons- but then also realised that communicating my truth is the point of the job of being a reviewer. It may be at odds with others who have their own perceptions - and that is really what art and dialogue is all about. Personally I am a huge fan of Sean Curham - always have and always will be. This show didn't reach me though - perhaps if I had seen it after seeing the other 6 parts, then perhaps most probably it would have read differently. However, can we really expect all audiences to know the ins and outs of every detail? At the end of the day, you take what you take. Everyone has an agenda and we are all different. I'm glad there are artists willing to vouch for their passions and so be it. Write, reflect, support, vocalise. I'm not really interested in copping the flack for having an opinion - so if you want to post your version then by all means feel free.

Anna Bate July 14th, 2011

Yes manifesto.

Yes to weirdness.

Yes to conundrums.

Yes to questions.

Yes to community.

Yes to unfulfilled expectations.

Yes to post-spectacle.

Yes to shock of the new.

Yes to resistance.

Yes to waiting.

Yes to the full spectrum of feelings.

Yes to difference.

Yes to failure.

Yes to the not so lay person.

And a massive whooping yes to risk.

And now introducing direct from his Ghosting series with a B+ average New Zealand’s finest: Mr Sean Curham.  Congratulations to Sean on the completion of his epic Ghosting series - a project of immense scale and diversity. 

 It is truly heartening to be involved with this performance practitioner who continually questions, experiments, and re-frames his practice, putting his material to the hard test. One of the hardest, or most ambitious, tests in the Ghosting Series, from my perspective, has been ‘Are You Scared of Me’.

I have worked with Sean on four of the six parts in this series and ‘Are You Scared of Me’ is the performance that I was the least involved with. (I was ‘the woman black’). I was lucky enough however to experience a full immersion in the sights and sounds of The Greater Auckland Chorus, in mufti, during rehearsals at the Balmoral Bowling Club. For me this was a weird, unfamiliar and emotional experience. Never in my life have I been one in an audience of four and had such a diverse group of (70+) women performing for me, in all their embodied glory.  A self confessed junkie for the unfamiliar this was a welcome reminder that I do not need to be elsewhere (outside of NZ) to obtain such experiences.

In fact, engagement with the unfamiliar and my desire to be disorientated is perhaps what excites me so much about being an experimental dance artist, and working with Sean. It is through the shock (or surprise) of the new (or unfamiliar/different), that I learn.  It seems that bethh may share this sentiment, as evidenced in her reflections on her experience of working with Sean.  For me, at least, these confrontations with difference open up of the potential ways in which the body can be lived. So, at times as an audience member your eyes may have been filled with pink, and your ‘normal’ view of the show somewhat obstructed, presenting you with a performance situation that is unfamiliar. Sure, it may have roused feelings other than joy and may not have been the most inspirational of gestures, but potentially conjured up a response or a question that is equally relevant and equally important (in my opinion).

My role in the show as ‘the woman in black’, the holder of signs, the marker of time, and the giver of cues interests me. Why? Because it, like many of my roles in this series, presents a performance challenge, a way of inhabiting space, engaging with time and relating to people and objects that I haven’t experienced before. Laugh at me if you want but I take my sign holding duties seriously. I assign value to these card flipping, CD changing, seat giving ‘everyday’ tasks in the same way as if I were performing more conventional (and seemingly more skilled) dance actions.

Anyway, I understand that this was a ‘weird’ and potentially alienating show and I know that it didn’t fulfil the ‘majorities’ expectations, but it sure has generated some worthy discussions on and off line. Personally, I don’t think Sean was ‘there’ yet with this final experiment, (although most definitely on the way). I do however applaud and admire him for undertaking such an ambitious project. And isn’t that what we as creative thinking humans should be doing? Trying to achieve the seemingly impossible, tackling ‘unsolvable’ problems, taking risks, and knowingly setting ourselves up to ‘fail’ - because is it not through failed experiments that new understandings and insights emerge? I am not saying that I think Sean ‘failed’ but that to fail is a generative act, which from where I am sitting is a kind of success that I am more than willing to embrace.   

So I say yes (and thank you) to the brave man in the yellow shirt with his tie cut straight (or slightly wonky). And thanks to all those involved in the Ghosting Series, in whatever capacity it was that you contributed.

With the best of intentions,



val smith July 13th, 2011

thanks so much for postings thoughts from your experience bethh, it is so interesting to read from your perspective

i would love to read thoughts from other perspectives too, suzanne? anna? kristian? mike? liz? this would be one way to further engage with how community keeps self refracting and reflecting out of performance events.

for me this work was solidly fascinating, and aesthetically gorgeous, i just loved and adored all the ghostings pieces that i saw,

i don't think i would ever get bored thinking and talking about sean's works, they are so loaded and oblique and surprising. thank you sean for all your committed and thorough inquiries.

bethh July 12th, 2011

At this point, I wonder what they make of this experience?

As a non-academic lay person involved in this show (a member of the Greater Auckland Chorus), and an acting virgin, I might be able to answer this for you: bloody brilliant!

From the time Sean Curham commenced  his research into us back at the beginning of this year, I can say we have enjoyed every moment of the journey.

Sean’s play, to me, explored that what is different / unfamiliar / uncomfortable / unconventional / and sometimes just plain weird to one person, is ‘normal’ to another.

Another title for the show could have been “Do I make you feel uncomfortable?”   For example, do you feel uncomfortable around people with disabilities, religious fanatics, spiritual people or believers in psychic abilities, awkward silences, unfinished storylines, missing plots, unusual noises, contexts and juxtapositions?  In this play Sean has made an artform of teasing out this response of discomfort and allowing it to linger just that little bit longer than most people desire, forcing one to examine their reaction.

The irony is that when Sean visited our chorus rehearsals for the first time, he would have found our vocal warm-up and tuning exercises to be strange and unfamiliar.  I congratulate him for paying meticulous detail to elements of our performance art, breaking it down into elements that would not normally be isolated – such as parts of vocal warm-up exercises (hissing, snoring, phonation, resonation, articulation, tuning), and allowing the audience to experience these.  Even attention to costume and grooming which normally only forms part of our contest performances or major shows, was highlighted by contrasting our bejewelled pink dresses and silver dance shoes with the surroundings of a rustic and dilapidated packing shed.

We were timed to arrive in such a way that the audience would see part of that preparation, i.e. the donning of shoes (which is of great significance to us but paradoxically of little consequence to someone who cannot walk).

By placing the audience among the singers, they got to see and hear things from a different angle, and experience sounds not usually ‘enjoyed’ when being performed facing an audience.

The silent singing with choreography highlighted the precision and synchronicity of the movement, and hopefully gave some appreciation of the difficulty of combining this with (hopefully) good vocal production.

As the weeks went by and the rehearsals began to gel, we felt our eyes open into another world and had permission to take a moment to absorb the sights sounds and silences while just ‘accepting’ that all this was perfectly rational to Sean, even if we did not fully understand it.

As for our members we are proud to be open to women of all ages, abilities, backgrounds and cultures – we have retirees, property investors, Doctorate holders, school teachers, nurses, interpreters , PhD students, university students, playwrights, actors, dancers, choir conductors, administration workers, business executives, real estate agents, lawyers, doctors, medical specialists, laboratory technicians, scientists, psychologists, counsellors, therapists, entrepreneurs, mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers  - ranging in age from late teens to early 80s.  So we already represent an inclusive and accepting cross-section of society.  I’m sure this is one of the aspects of shared community that Sean was exploring in his Ghosting series.

Raewyn Whyte July 12th, 2011

 I don't disagree with Jack -- this really was a very wierd experience, and it was full of conundrums.  

 I have seen half of the Ghosting series of shows, all of which have been boundary pushing/breaking as performance installations, and all of which have raised and questioned assumptions about "performance" in relation to "community" and "everyday life".  

I came away from this particular show musing on the question of what is "real", and wondering whether  this show manages to create for the audience a sense of community that lasts longer than the show itself..

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