Theatre and the Macabre

Editor(s) Meredith Conti, Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr.

Language: English

Genre(s): Media, Film and Theatre

Series: Horror Studies

  • March 2022 · 288 pages ·216x138mm

  • · Paperback - 9781786838452
  • · eBook - pdf - 9781786838469
  • · eBook - epub - 9781786838476

About The Book

The ‘macabre’, as a process and product, has been haunting the theatre – and more broadly, performance – for thousands of years. In its embodied meditations on death and dying, its thematic and aesthetic grotesquerie, and its sensory-rich environments, macabre theatre invites artists and audiences to trace the stranger, darker contours of human existence. In this volume, numerous scholars explore the morbid and gruesome onstage, from freak shows to the French Grand Guignol; from Hell Houses to German Trauerspiel; from immersive theatre to dark tourism, stopping along the way to look at phantoms, severed heads, dark rides, haunted mothers and haunting children, dances of death and dismembered bodies. From Japan to Australia to England to the United States, the global macabre is framed and juxtaposed to understand how the theatre brings us face to face with the deathly and the horrific.


‘Horror onstage is too often considered a mere curiosity, rarely worthy of serious critical consideration. By presenting a wide range of pieces that incorporate history and region, as well as exploring those extraordinary places where literature, theatre, folklore and pop culture meet, Theatre and the Macabre succeeds in proving that the study of theatrical horror is tremendously valuable.’
Lisa Morton, author of Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances

‘Theatre and the Macabre is a must-read book for academics, history buffs, theatre professionals and students of the macabre. The range of subjects covered and depths to which they are explored, literally from head to footlights, make this book an invaluable addition to any library.’
Teel James Glenn, actor, director, fight choreographer and novelist

‘Meredith Conti and Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr, have choreographed a fascinating collection on the macabre and the theatre. More than that, its delineation of the liminal nature of performance, witnessing and participation reveal the centrality of death to the ongoing dance of life.’
Simon Bacon, author and editor of Gothic: A Reader, and Horror: A Companion

‘Skulls, ghosts, severed heads … This is a book steeped in gruesome and creepy manifestations. The essays gathered together address the ethics and politics of macabre spectacles – from Grand Guignol to twenty-first-century immersive experiences – as well as the potentially lucrative exploitation of our fascination with the body’s perturbing vulnerabilities. It is this joint concern that gets right to the bleeding heart of macabre theatres.’
Dr Adam Alston, Goldsmiths, University of London


Introduction: I Made the Dance of Death - Meredith Conti

Part I. Histories of the Macabre
The Mortification of Harvey Leach: Humour and Horror in Nineteenth-Century Theatre of Disability - Michael M. Chemers
The Horrors of the Great War on the London Stage: The Grand Guignol Season of 1915 - Helen E.M. Brooks
Phantoms of the Stage: The History and Practice of Uncanny Apparitions - Richard J. Hand

Part II. Dramaturgies of the Macabre
Time and Punishment: Gothic Maternal Bodies on the Contemporary British Stage - Kelly Jones
The Body Dismembered: Allegory and Modernity in German Trauerspiel - Magda Romanska
Macabre Children on the Australian Stage: Angela Betzien’s Cycle of Crime Plays - Chris Hay and Stephen Carleton
Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen: Justice and Guilt in Public and Private Acts of Hanging - Michelle C. Paull
Fear of Death and Lyrical Flight: Mortality Salience Mediation in Fun Home - Christopher J. Staley

Part III. Staging the Macabre
The Severed Head on Stage - Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr.
Dancing Haunted Legacies: Diana Szeinblum’s Alaska- Jeanmarie Higgins
‘To Die Over and Over Inside My Body’: Three Deaths in Hijikata Tatsumi’s Butoh - J. E. F. Ooi

Part IV. The Immersive Macabre
‘Black and Deep Desires’: Sleep No More and the Immersive Macabre - Dan Venning
The Dark Ride Immersive and the Danse Macabre - David Bisaha
Liveness and Aliveness: Chasing the Uncanny in the Contemporary Haunt Industry - David Norris
American Hells: Hell Houses, Abortion Frames, and Unsexed Women - Robyn Lee Horn
Haunting the Stage: Macabre Tourism, Lieux de Mémoire, and the Immortal Death of Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre - Meredith Conti

About the Author(s)

Author(s): Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr.

Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr. is Professor of Theatre and director of the MFA program at Loyola Marymount University. He is the author, editor and co-editor of over two dozen books, including Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema (2012), Eaters of the Dead: A Cultural History of Cannibal Monsters (2021), the Bram Stoker Award-nominated The Streaming of Hill House (2020), and numerous articles on horror theatre.

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