It’s not as gross as it sounds.

Have you ever been through a vom at a theatre or seen actors use one during a performance? What are some theatres that have vomitoria as part of their design? Tell us about it here!

They might sound like something unpleasant to modern-day ears, but voms have actually been part of the theatre for thousands of years.

“Vom” is short for vomitorium, which comes from the Latin verb vomo/vomitus, meaning “to vomit or spew forth.” But again, not in the way we may think about vomiting these days!

A vomitorium is a corridor built beneath or behind the seats of a coliseum, stadium, theatre, arena, or other large building. It’s designed to facilitate the movement of large numbers of people, which means it actually “vomits” or “spews” people out of the building at the end of an event. The vomitoria in the Colosseum in Rome were said to be so well designed that its 50,000 seats could be filled and emptied in 15 minutes.

There is a modern-day misconception that the ancient Romans used these corridors—the voms—as a place to vomit the contents of their stomachs after large meals to make room for more indulgences. But although the Romans probably vomited at times, they did not, as far as we know, use the vomitoria to do so!

The voms in theatres are also used as pathways for actors to enter and exit the stage. Some contemporary theatres that have voms are the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, and the Cockpit Theatre in London. The Circle in the Square Theatre in New York is the only Broadway theatre with a vomitorium.

Kim Midkiff

This video was made by our friends in the Department of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at Yale School of Drama.

    Here’s the creative team:

    Written by the Dramaturgy Class of 2015
    Directed by Catherine Sheehy and Rachel Carpman
    Shot by David Kane
    Starring: Samantha Lazar, Helen Jaksch, Kelly Kerwin, Stephanie Rolland, Hugh Farrell, and members of the YSD community

    Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre train and advance leaders to raise the standards of global professional practice in every theatrical discipline. Students in School of Drama’s Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism department receive intensive training to prepare for careers in three areas: to work in theaters as dramaturgs, artistic producers, literary managers, and in related positions; to work in theater publishing as critics and editors as well as in other capacities; to teach theater as practitioners, critics, and scholars.