© 2008

Staging Stigma

A Critical Examination of the American Freak Show

  • Authors

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xiv
  2. Michael M. Chemers
    Pages 1-9
  3. Michael M. Chemers
    Pages 11-26
  4. Michael M. Chemers
    Pages 27-55
  5. Michael M. Chemers
    Pages 57-83
  6. Michael M. Chemers
    Pages 85-101
  7. Michael M. Chemers
    Pages 103-130
  8. Michael M. Chemers
    Pages 131-139
  9. Back Matter
    Pages 141-168

About this book


Staging Stigma is a captivating excursion into the bizarre world of the American freak show. Chemers critically examines several key moments of a performance tradition in which the truth is often stranger than the fiction. Grounded in meticulous historical research and cultural criticism, Chemers analysis reveals untold stories of freaks that will change the way we understand both performance and disability in America. This book is a must-have for serious students of freakery or anyone who is curious about the hidden side of American theatrical history.


criticism disability information Nation research state theatre university

About the authors

MICHAEL MARK CHEMERS is Assistant Professor of Dramatic Literature, Carnegie Mellon University, USA.

Bibliographic information


"This is an eminently readable book...It represents a reservoir of cultural and historical knowledge about one of theatre's often unacknowledged margins, and of the stories of performers who had intriguing and self-directed lives." - Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

"As a wide-ranging historian and dramaturg in a hands-on conservatory of theatre arts, Chemers knows that freakishness illuminates the conditions underlying all successful performance, because peculiarity, however stigmatized, can bestow eminence when effectively marketed. From the marriage of Tom Thumb to the firing of Frog Boy, Staging Stigma uncovers a history that will interest students of performance studies, disability studies, and American studies." - Joseph Roach, Sterling Professor of Theater, Yale University

"Staging Stigma is a spirited exploration of how the freak show - that extravagant, strange, fascinating, and faded, but lingering, very American institution - turned unusual folks into compelling and repelling celebrities. Chemers perfectly captures the way the freak show stage converts social stigma into theater, detailing both the ascendancy and the decline of these exuberant displays as the extravagant freaks came to be understood as people with medical problems. Chemers unique contribution is the intriguing idea of rethinking these stigmatized ways of being as freaktopia, an appreciation of the proliferation of human differences now pronounced as pathological and undesirable." - Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Professor of Women's Studies, Emory University, author of Extraordinary Bodies, and editor of Freakery

"This study contributes an overview of benchmark moments in freak history and these moments serve as representative of a more holistic discussion of the potential for subversion in the freak show. Its readability, energy, and engaging tone makes it an accessible and historically useful text for undergraduates; the fact that its organizing question is an attempt to move theatre studies and disability studies discourse forward make it useful for graduate students and scholars in those fields." - Ann M. Fox, Associate Professor of English, Davidson College

"Staging Stigma offers the freak show as a means for both disability studies and theater history to reclaim a lost past and negotiate an uncertain future." - e-misférica"A small book with big goals, Staging Stigma frames a laser-sharp analysis of four crucial moments in the history of freak shows with bold theoretical ruminations emerging from Chemers s work in disability studies. The result is an immensely readable study that also serves as a practical guide for future scholarly endeavors in theatre and disability studies." - Theatre Journal"Energized, engaging, and even somewhat performative...Chemers' book makes a significant contribution to disability studies, theatre studies, and freak studies." - Disability Studies Quarterly