Marie Pecorari

Dr. Marie Pecorari has been Associate Professor of American Studies at Sorbonne Université since 2009.

She has published extensively on post-WWII avant-garde dramaturgies in the United States (Charles Ludlam and Ridiculous Theatre, Bruce Norris, Suzan-Lori Parks, Tennessee Williams, documentary theatre). She is also active as a translator, editor and analyst of Performance Studies scholarship (Performance: Expérimentation et théorie du théâtre aux USA, Richard Schechner, Paris: Éditions Théâtrales, 2008; guest editor, special issue of Études anglaises on Performance Studies, Paris: Klincksieck, spring 2016).

Her work on the representation of dead bodies and body parts in experimental theatre led her to investigate funeral rituals in the United States from a performance perspective. She is currently working on a research monograph on the implications of the digital turn on funeral celebrations.

To conduct her project on funeral practices in the United States, Dr. Pecorari is thankful to have benefitted from the help of several funding bodies and institutions, in addition to her current residency at PIASt: as a fellow of the Mellon School for Theatre and Performance Research at Harvard University (2013), the Eccles Centre at the British Library (Visiting European Fellow, 2014) and the recipient of a Zwickler Memorial research grant at Cornell University library (2014).


Death and dead bodies have been widely used as representational and theoretical models in relation to theatre. The objective behind the aesthetic presentation of the corpse in an open casket is to offer a life-like image of the deceased, performed in a theatrical environment by a funeral director, in order to facilitate the grieving process. This performance model relies on the presence of a live audience in real-time, witnessing the final apparition of the corpse in the guise of what is referred to, in funeral parlance, as a ‘lasting memory picture’ — to be engraved in the audience members’ minds before its physical disappearance.

Yet less attention has been paid to the corpse-as-theatre (as a performer/performed, prop, script), in its literality, and to the significance of the inclusion of digital technology in the funeral experience — even as the availability of technology coupled with increasing geographical mobility has led to rising demand for ‘remote’ funerals across the United States. Whether live streamed or recorded for future viewing, these technology-enabled ‘memory pictures’ pose renewed theoretical challenges worth further analysis.

The broader objective of this research project is to look at the critical entanglements behind the “American Way of Death” (Mitford) from a performance studies perspective.
First, in order to open up trans-disciplinary points of contact, and especially enter into a dialogue with the field of death studies, which has so far drawn interest mostly from psychologists and sociologists. Second, to examine what may be viewed as a major turning point in the funeral experience — both from a performance/reception aspect —: the availability of and reliance on technologies that create a spatio-temporal disconnect from the spectacle. The project will weigh in on the implications of this growing acceptance of physical absence, and whether it constitutes a socio-aesthetic shift on a par with the rise of embalming during the Civil War, which grew out of necessity (preserving bodies over long distances) but led to an overhaul of the pre-existing funeral model.

This work braids the social and aesthetic dimensions, theatrical representations of real-life corpses and real-life representations with a performance dimension. The methodology is entrenched in the post-disciplinary spirit of performance studies, which borrows and weaves together theory from a variety of sources in cultural studies, while maintaining a strong focus on the theatrical dimension as an overarching critical model.

Dates of stay: 01 March 2018 - 31 July 2018