Landmark theatre, community art and even a giant roving bird show…
As home to some of the UK’s leading content producers, not to mention cultural monoliths like The Lowry and nearby Imperial War Museum, MediaCity is already a hive of creativity. But recent years have seen the area add another dimension to its arts offering, with a dynamic range of immersive events spanning Wild in Art’s 2018 snowman trail to the annual winter Lightwaves festival.
While COVID-19 may have seen the latter take a 2020 hiatus, this winter nevertheless promises as diverse a calendar as ever; from Box on the Docks to ground-breaking theatre and even a giant roving birdcage…
BOX ON THE DOCKS - DECEMBER
Box on the Docks first launched in July as a new socially distanced dining and arts experience; featuring around 30 ‘boxes,’ in the form of deluxe sheds and greenhouses, placed outside restaurants and cafes and decorated by local artists. Launching post-lockdown, its next chapter will showcase insightful real-life stories told by older people and marginalised communities thanks to a range of artistic projects.
The colourful stories told by our elders is something that’s celebrated in new North West children’s TV show The World According to Grandpa (partly produced, you guessed it, in MediaCity; made by local company Saffron Cherry Productions). But Channel 5 isn’t the only platform inspired by older generations this Christmas, as Manchester’s Heard Storytelling brings A Grand Life, Heard to Box on the Docks. Visitors can make themselves comfy in a unique pod reminiscent of a grandparent’s living room, and listen to audio recordings from GM residents - promising candid true tales of their joys, regrets and life lessons. (PS: Are you an older person with something to share? You can still propose a contribution by contacting the Heard team here).
Co-founder Colette Burroughs-Rose said: “Heard Storytelling exists to make people feel heard. The impact of the COVID-19 crisis has been particularly difficult for older people, as many have had to shield from the outside world. Against this backdrop of increasing isolation, we wanted to collect and share these important voices to bring people together to listen to each other’s lived experiences. The power of true storytelling and its ability to create community and connection is more important than ever in these uncertain times.”
Also reflecting this theme, Salford-based Manchester Street Poem are returning with ‘MSPs Winter Trees’ - a new concept surrounding the magic of Christmas. Heart-warming messages of hope penned by those who feel they have lost their voice will adorn the walls of the pod; accompanied by a soundtrack exclusively designed by founders of Manchester Street Poem, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith from British electronic music group Underworld.
Karl Hyde said: “Christmas rarely looks like it does in the TV adverts and this installation is intended to promote the view that the magic of Christmas resides in people. It’s the small things, those acts and gestures that cost nothing, but can make all the difference. Within the box we will create trees, covered with Christmas cards filled with messages of positivity and kindness.”
MediaCity-based Carbon Creative will be emphasising the importance of community too, transforming a shed into a striking Salford Food Bank collection box to support local families in need. Throughout this year the valuable service delivered food parcels to over 6000 families and demand is set to increase over the coming months.
These aren’t the only new commissions set to transform the newly reopened Box on the Docks, with everything from large painted murals to phosphorescent designs and even a ‘love chapel’ (no we’re not sure either). Check the website for what’s on and further updates.
MYSTERY BIRD - DECEMBER
Mystery Bird won’t be just a MediaCity event, with locations across Manchester and Salford set to be announced. Produced by Quays Culture, the team behind vibrant outdoor events such as the popular annual Lightwaves festival, the travelling installation - featuring an oversized bird cage full of animated birds - will tour local streets on the back of a flatbed truck, evoking the excitement of a traditional carnival float.
Inspired by the public’s heightened awareness of nature during the COVID-19 pandemic, and its ability to offer comfort and relaxation, this magical project combines the talents of five local artists across model-making, projection, design, sound and augmented reality (AR).
Providing the soundtrack is Manchester-based beatboxer Jason Singh; best known for the Tweet Music album, which was commissioned by the National Trust after research found that listening to bird song makes people calmer and boosts positivity. It features six birds - the willow tit (apparently a regular in Wigan), grasshopper warbler, lapwing, tree sparrow, starling and peregrine falcon - intertwined by an electronic score creating the sounds, rhythms and feelings of birdsong.
Singh said: “This work celebrates all birds, big and small; birds with personalities, displayers, the gangster birds as I call them…I hope my work will connect everyone to the amazing creatures in our life that perhaps we haven’t noted until now.”
Incredible paper artist @paperhelen has created intricate bird silhouettes for our #msyterybird installation. Each species has been painstakingly captured in an array of positions ready for animation - here are a few@illuminosvales, @jasonsinghthing, @jackhardiker, @M3inds pic.twitter.com/yQrPUaGOFZ
— QuaysCulture (@QuaysCulture) November 19, 2020
The birds themselves have been created by paper artist Helen Musselwhite, who said: “I have worked with these six birds, some of whom aren’t commonly known, to show their personality, their lives and their passions. I show the birds in flight, banking, swooping, flying and static. I have ‘lived’ these birds for months and want to share their story. It is the story of us all at present; a feeling of being trapped, unsure, not able to be free - that is the Mystery Bird story.”
Alongside Jack Hardiker, who has created an interactive AR element, Musselwhite worked with Rob Vale and Matt Vale of Illuminos - famed for projection artworks like Sentinels - to ‘bring the birds to life.’ They had the huge challenge of how to present the birds in a cage, fabricated by M3 Industries, with a 360 degree viewing programme whilst travelling on a moving vehicle.
Having spent months studying the six birds in order to animate them realistically, Rob said: “It has been fascinating to watch the movements of the group as they are so different. The willow tit for example is a nervous jumpy bird; it jumps around and then perches. The grasshoppper warbler sits with its head down and makes a strange insect noise, then leaps straight ahead and starts its strange performance over again.”
“The starlings are so interesting too,” added Matt. “They run and rattle about then hop around. The characters of the birds are so different and it has been incredible to bring them to life.”
The Mystery Bird installation will see the animated birds perform a seven-minute choreographed routine, reflecting each species’ natural songs and behaviour, before they are ‘released’ to swoop and fly around the surrounding houses. The story is one of hope and triumph.
“Despite COVID-19 being devastating there are some aspects of this situation that have made us re-focus on important factors in our lives. We want to play that back to people and deliver an ‘art at your front door’ wonder that will be truly special,” said co-creator Gemma Saunders.
“The trapped birds will burst from their cage and surround those watching, flying across their houses and down their street. We hope this creates an element of hope, joy and happiness to those who are lucky enough to see it.”
The Mystery Bird tour will take place over four days in December, with locations TBA. However, those people not part of the route will be able to watch the show online and get involved in a collaborative video; more details coming soon.
C-O-N-T-A-C-T - JANUARY
(Update: this has now been postponed to March)
Originally created by Samuel Sené and Gabrielle Jourdain and premiering in France with French production company Musidrama over the summer - in a world where social distancing had become the ‘new normal’ - this timely immersive play explores the themes of mental health and anxiety through the eyes of Sarah as she is approached by someone she believes to be a stranger. She discovers that he can hear her thoughts, but how? Who is this man?
After a critically-acclaimed UK premiere in London thanks to Aria Entertainment and WEF Productions, the outdoor promenade performance hits the North West in partnership with The Lowry. It will run in two locations, Salford Quays and central Manchester, for six weeks ahead of touring worldwide.
Audiences of no more than 17 per show can purchase their tickets online and will then receive a link to download the accompanying app. This will provide the exact location, additionally to C-o-n-t-a-c-t’s landmark soundtrack; a completely new piece of technology that synchronises the spectators and actors, allowing the show to play with theatrical concepts and a new form of dramaturgy. There will be no live speaking from the actors themselves.
Matt Eames, senior programmer and producer at The Lowry, said: “In these challenging times it’s so important we find new ways to connect with audiences. After the show’s big impact in London, we’re excited to work with Katy and WEF Productions to bring C-o-n-t-a-c-t to two locations in Greater Manchester before it continues its journey around the world. I'm certain our audiences will love this unique blend of sound and immersive theatre.”
C-o-n-t-a-c-t is 50 minutes without interval; please note all audience members will be required to wear a face-covering and observe social distancing measures. Tickets for the show (which runs in Manchester and Salford) cost £19.50 or £22.50 and are now available on the website.