Menagerie Macabre Invites Enjoyment of Horror

Menagerie Macabre beautifully, comprehensively lives up to the title. From the first notes of the opening solo being sung by a disembodies voice the audience is sweetly put off-kilter. There is a serious conflict between the sweet, soaring soprano and the old hag on the stage – yet they are the same.

I watched this performance as part of one of my favorite events in August in Indianapolis, the Fringe Festival. Fringe is a theatre lover’s dream. Running for 11 days are 64 one-act shows at venues along and around Mass Ave. Each show lasts about an hour and costs $10 admission. 100% of admission to each show goes to the performers. IndyFringe  Festival has been running since 2005, and I have gleefully binged on live theatre every August since.

A conversation with my friend after the performance started me thinking about the emotional value or role of horror in our culture. This fantastic play was not high on my list of shows I wanted to see, so our attendance was more of an impulse. The play included all of the classic horror film troupes: a mad scientist, a wronged lover, dismemberment, a witch’s cauldron, spooky music and loads of fog. Unlike horror films, which I do not enjoy, this theatrical performance reminded me of my long-held love of the darkness.

Neurologically, we are all wired to pay attention to what is novel or different in our environment. Menagerie Macabre provides plenty of that! In addition to novelty, scary movies or plays increase our level of excitement, creating more intense memories of the experience. In addition, those of us who like the adrenaline rush of fear can safely enjoy one! So we get a safe little jolt of adrenaline and the resume our normal lives.

Psychologically, Freud and Jung both believed that horror genre performances connect to a repressed experience we are all familiar with, something in the  collective unconscious. Literature talks about the value of catharsis, the idea that horror invokes feelings of fear, dread and anxiety, which then undergoes cathartic release when the show is over. According to this explanation, the stronger the negative feelings generated by the horror, then the better and happier we feel when the show is over.

ersonally my interest in the dark side is completely selfish. I love opportunities to think about the world in a different way, reflect deeply on human nature, or reconsider a belief. I adore experiencing Aha! moments or witnessing them with my clients. In the cover of dark, we can experience things we would prefer to avoid in the garish light of day. We can explore themes or ideas that threaten to make our head explode, shifting how we see the world around us.