From Hairdressers to Chefs: The 12-Hour Live Performance Documenting the Working Lives of the People of Manchester

On Saturday 24th September at HOME, 12 Last Songs will showcase a 12 hour-long performance exhibition of ordinary people doing their everyday work.

By Emma Davidson | August 19th '22

Known for its touching calendar of theatre performances, next up at HOME is 12 Last Songs, a performance focused on the everyday lives of working people. The ‘workers’ have diverse jobs, are local to Manchester and are brought together in HOME’s gallery during this emotive performance. 

600 questions will be asked to the workers over the 12 hours, with the hope to inspire conversations. A chef, nursery worker or a drone operator might share the space with an astrophysicist, ICU nurse or Uber driver. 12 Last Songs is directed by Quarantine’s Artistic Director Richard Gregory and premiered at Leeds Playhouse in 2021.

Quarantine is a Manchester-based ensemble of artists and producers making original theatre, performance and public events since 1998. United by an interest in what it means to be alive right now, they have achieved international acclaim for work that is intellectually rigorous, radical in form, and unique in character.

12 Last Songs is a live portrait of place and people set around the usual question asked when we meet someone new; ‘what do you do?’. Audiences see different fragments of society come together, with ‘work’ becoming a way to talk about how we see the world and our place in it.

Richard Gregory, Quarantine’s Co-Artistic Director said: “Quarantine has always been interested in who people are and how they experience the world. Maybe in all our work, there’s this kind of simultaneous concern with what’s going on at this moment in time  and how to invent a language of performance to talk about that.” 

12 Last Songs features 24 workers from Manchester. It constructs a fleeting portrait of society as a live exhibition of people, in a performance that documents the steady rhythms of working life on a large scale. From midday to midnight, workers will perform paid shifts of their usual jobs within the unique setting of the gallery space at HOME. A builder might build a wall, a hairdresser might cut someone’s hair and a chef might prepare a meal.

When the work premiered as a co-production with Transform Festival at Leeds Playhouse in 2021, audiences were treated to witnessing an opera singer perform, a cook making dinner for everyone in the room, and a lecture on the birth canal from a midwife. There was a local MP, an imam and an ex-prisoner in conversation, and an astrophysicist giving a lecture about the solar system. The longest shift comes from a painter and decorator who works for 10 hours, wallpapering walls that mark the passing of time.

A multitude of job roles and professions will be represented in this iteration of 12 Last Songs. The selected workers represent diverse forms of labour spanning all walks of life. 600 questions are asked during the 12 hours by 3 Quarantine performers, providing a structural frame for the organic process of curating the group of workers. Questions can be work-related like ‘how do you travel to work? or ‘how much do you earn?’ as well as more intimate like ‘do you have enough friends?’ or ‘who do you love?’.

Richard Gregory, Quarantine’s Co-Artistic Director said: “Our theatres are important civic spaces and we question who gets to have a voice within them. With 12 Last Songs, we invite people together who might not normally share the same space. We mix experienced performers with people who’ve never done anything like this before. 

“The ‘work’ becomes a lens to talk about broader things – about the way that society is structured, beliefs and values, economics and politics. We try to make these possibilities in the frame of theatre- and art-making to question whose voice gets heard and what that means. We are delighted to be bringing 12 Last Songs to HOME and excited to find workers from Manchester to join the performance.”

Kevin Jamieson, Head of Programme at HOME said: “Bringing 12 Last Songs to HOME is an exciting prospect for all of us in the building. It is a unique work that enables us to see the complex and rich working life of the people in Manchester all within our gallery space for 12 hours. Quarantine is a dynamic and much loved Manchester company – one of HOME’s founding Partner Companies – and we look forward to this epic adventure with them.”

Artist Lowri Evans will be live streaming film from the outside world into the performance space during the work, looking at places where people gather together, creating a direct relationship to the city and a sense of the life happening outside.

12 Last Songs is a durational work taking place on Saturday 24 September 2022 at HOME. It takes place over 12 hours and audiences can come and go throughout the performance. To book tickets go to homemcr.org

Any Manchester-based workers who are interested in joining this performance work on 24 September can get in touch with Quarantine here.

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12 Last Songs at HOME

Date: Saturday 24th September
Time: 12 hours from 12pm
Venue: HOME
Price: Pay What You Can £5/£10/£15/£20

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