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Dorothy Melander-Dayton

For my thesis project, I explore the American freak or side show and how it functions as a liminal space where reality and fantasy, truth and fiction, the mundane and the extraordinary, all collide through the means of a constructed environment, the use of costume and makeup, and personal performance. Within this, I examine how the “freak” is a constructed persona, one that functions and exists between the margins of society. Like theater, the freakshow is a place where an audience comes to interact with an alternate reality. This reality has its basis in the mundane world, but has been transformed into something beyond strict facts. In a sideshow, the audience is never sure whether a particular freak is genuine or a scam.  In addition, many of the freaks are self-made, such as tattooed people or sword swallowers.  The audience is never sure of the overall truth-value of a freakshow, and this is one of the attractions.  My research spans several disciplines, among them history, sociology, theater and theater arts, literature and film, as well as art and art history.

Images, L-R: The Elephant Lady, Sarafina the Burning Woman, Rapunzel: the Beauty with the Prehensile Hair.