Two men in an art studio smiling and holding up a pink dress, looking directly into the camera.

A Fairytale in Manchester

Ahead of the premier performance of Man on Bench Fairytale, Fiona Slater caught up with Unlimited Commissioned Emerging Artist David Tovey to talk about this new participatory project.

Man on a Bench Fairytale combines a number of different art forms, spanning a variety of genres. Can you give us a taster of what audiences will see on 18th November?

Man on Bench is a life and death story that translates a near death experience into an artistic performance. I’ve staged Man on Bench in different places before and no one performance of it is quite the same. This time I’m delighted that we are going host it at the Mayfield Depot where they normally stage parts of the Manchester International Festival. It’s exciting to be working in such a large and industrial space and it’ll be a perfect setting for the show.

Man on Bench immerses people into my story and in the past I have worked with the idea of a catwalk, reclaiming the idea of high fashion to show the beauty in second chances. We’ll have more outfits than ever before and over twenty people have been involved in making the costumes from across Manchester. Audiences will definitely see a fashion show with outfits made out of everyday things from plastic bags to inner tubes.

So I’m looking forward to this latest version of Man on Bench. It has always featured music performance but this version has a full score with grime and opera both playing a part.  The audience will be invited to share a spectacular retelling of my own journey from despair to hope, one which I think speaks for many of us at the sharp end of inequality.

You have run a series of workshops on the lead up to the performance. How have people been getting involved in the project and why was it important to the process?

 During August and September I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing people at H3, a homelessness charity in Stockport and the Mustard Tree in Ancoats in the city. Over five weeks, I have been teaching costume making to various people on Wednesdays.

People have got involved by sketching their own outfits, making some themselves and contributing ideas and enthusiasm. I’ve met some amazing people with so much talent. The results are over twenty new inspiring creations and it’s really great because part of what I’m trying to do with Man on Bench is share unique artwork – be it a song or a costume – as part of a wider experience that has a message for change.

Many of the artists who made these will be there on the day, either as performers or volunteers so keep an eye out for them.

You have received some mentoring with Timothy Burke to offer advise with the musical elements of the commission. Can you tell us what you have been focussing on in these sessions?  

 Timothy is a brilliant conductor who is putting me through my paces as far as putting an opera together is concerned. We’ve been talking about the sequencing of the show, composition and the timings of the performance as it relates to the music. It’s great for me because in the past I’ve done everything myself but having a space to work with a classically trained expert at the top of their game is going to really impact Man on Bench.

The work will be the finale for the first International Arts and Homelessness Summit and Festival. Why do you think this work is being recognised now and why has is taken so long?

I am very grateful to With One Voice who have taken such a bold step in putting on the Summit and Festival in the first place!  I think this work is being recognised because society feels increasingly divided and so people are looking for relevant and real art that can cross borders. I think this is why it has gathered momentum and enabled me to build relationships with organisations like the Museum of Homelessness, that approached me to present it as part of their State of the Nation weekend at Tate last year. So overall this is part of a broader movement of socially relevant art being made in new and interesting ways. If you look at what With One Voice and Museum of Homelessness are doing at the moment, you can see that we’re having a positive impact and getting people’s attention.

Follow the link below to purchase tickets for Man on Bench Fairytale: