Performing medical monstrosity: an autopsy of The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak

Purcell-Gates, L (2014) Performing medical monstrosity: an autopsy of The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak. In: Performing Science: Dialogues Across Cultures, 24-26 April 2014, University of Lincoln, UK.


A medical philosopher, a scholar of 18th-century literature, an eating disorders specialist, twelve medical students, and two puppeteers meet to discuss the strange case of Tarrare, an 18th-century French polyphagist whose insatiable appetite and propensity for cat eating earned him the moniker of ‘monster’ in medical records. The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak is a chamber opera for puppets planned for development in the summer of 2014 by Wattle & Daub Figure Theatre, with a scientific research and public engagement component planned for 2014-16 in collaboration with scholars and researchers across medical, humanities, and theatrical disciplines. This paper will explore the planning period leading to the project’s development, in which specialists and students from multiple disciplines – some of which seem to stand distinct from one another (medicine, puppetry), some of which already cross disciplinary thresholds (medical humanities) – have engaged in conversations seeking to plan a scientific research and public engagement path through the creation and performance of a puppet opera. This planning has interwoven approaches to scientific research into polyphagia with historical inquiry about the medical and historical nature of ‘monstrosity’; it has sought to work out pedagogical approaches to medical humanities students who will be working with a theatre company to develop the libretto and puppet design. It has seen the Artistic Director of Wattle & Daub Figure Theatre, the head of the University of Bristol’s Medical Humanities programme, and the public engagement officer for Arnos Vale Cemetery attempting to hash out a series of talks and workshops that will bring together artists, therapists, scientific researchers, medical students, humanities scholars, and members of the public around the creation of the show and its associated scientific research. These are conversations that have been new to many of the collaborators. By focusing on the ways in which specialists from multiple and diverse disciplines have engaged in this planning period, this paper will provide an example of such collaboration and propose that the struggles and successes of building this theatrical, scientific research, and public engagement project give testimony to how science and the arts can come together around the story of one medical monstrosity.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions: Bath School of Music and Performing Arts
Date Deposited: 10 Oct 2018 09:15
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2021 09:42
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