Around four years ago, I got the idea to write a show about bubonic plague. Not on just one or two outbreaks or something, but an entire stage show where I just talk about bubonic plague for three hours. Any takers? No? Huh.

As a fan of history, I really felt that the story of plague was just fascinating and carried so much weight with it. It’s a worst-case scenario to this day. I’ve been obsessed with it for some time now. So I rented a theatre, I sent out the Facebook event invites and the lights went up on my plague show, which I called Big Bad Black Death.

I started the show with the Plague of Justinian in 541 AD and ended it with the Modern Plague of the 19th century. The show was not a hit. It ran almost three hours long. It was a lot of material, it just didn’t work. I was also pretty drunk while presenting the material. I’m sure that didn’t help. I never drank on stage after that and shortly after, I gave up drinking all together.

I went back to the drawing board with the project. I put it on the back burner for a while and went ahead with writing and producing autobiographical stage shows. While studying plague even further, I got really into the concept of pandemics and their ability to act as an agent of change. I also really like their horrifying nature and the heroes of certain events.

I started really delving into smallpox, the cholera pandemics, pandemic influenza, historic syphilis, malaria and on and on. I knew I had something with this. I knew I had something to give people that would be of use to them. I originally conceived it as a podcast, but was asked by a photographer friend of mine if I was interested in doing a web series. I told him that I was, indeed and I pitched him my disease idea, which became a web series that I called Terrifying World. It didn’t pan out due to scheduling and we only managed to get one episode done. I was working with another photographer friend of mine, Michelle Morgan a few weeks later and she jumped at the idea. She really made the idea come to life and made it real. The series would not be a thing without her.

I already had the episodes on plague, smallpox and cholera scripted by this point and we started immediately. The Ebola outbreak in Africa got a little out of control and we decided to go ahead and tackle that subject right away since so much  misinformation on the disease ran rampant on the internet.

I am a storyteller first and foremost. I have no medical background. I have taken all kinds of college courses on history and the history of infectious disease epidemics in Western society. This is something I’m a bit obsessed with, so naturally I have read a slew of books on the matter as well as any and all current articles from reputable sources.

Some of the works cited for the series include but are from from limited to:

Brandt, Allan. No Magic Bullet. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Barnes, David. The Making of a Social Disease: Tuberculosis in Nineteenth-Century France. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Chase, Marilyn. The Barbary Plague. New York: Random House, 2004.

Fenn, Elizabeth. Pox Americana. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001.

Snow, John. Snow on Cholera, New York: The Commonwealth Fund: Oxford University Press, 1936.

Verghese, Abraham. My Own Country. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Ziegler, Philip. The Black Death. New York: John Day, 1969.

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About Ryan Fabian

New England writer and lover of knowledge.

Latest Posts By Ryan Fabian


epidemics, History, medicine, science, storytelling, web series, youtube


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