A caterer, roaster, imam and former drug dealer were among the first to show up at the Leeds Playhouse on Thursday. On Saturday, they will be joined by colleagues from around the world including a midwife, a dog groomer, a mason and an astrophysicist.

The somewhat mind-boggling gathering took place in preparation for a 12-hour art event that could best be described as an epic documentary theatrical performance. Or a live exposure of people.

At the heart of it is work. What people do for a living, whether it’s helping a living or building a wall. “So many people are unaware of how remarkable the way they spend their time is,” said Richard Gregory, co-artistic director of the company behind the event, Manchester-based Quarantine.

The seeds for the project were sown in the fall of 2019, said Gregory. “It was Donald Trump’s heyday when all the posts were about having very limited views on who society should involve, embrace and invite.”

Then came the pandemic, which made so many people question the lives they were leading. “Like others, I sat down and started to think: why am I still doing my job, 40 years later… does it bring anything to the world?

Emily Bailey, a caterer. Photograph: Christopher Thomond / The Guardian

Originally conceived as a 90-minute traveling show, the concept evolved into a 12-hour experience, making its world premiere in Leeds on Saturday, starting at noon and ending at midnight.

The audience can see the participants answering questions: 670 of them were compiled, ranging from simple “What are you doing?” “” And “Where are you from? to “How much would you spend on a new pair of shoes?” “” And “Do you know how much your parents made?

Other participants will do things. A painter and a decorator will spend up to nine hours lining the walls. There will be presentations, such as the midwife explaining the passage of a baby through the birth canal. A cook will prepare dinner to share with the public. The astrophysicist will talk about the stars. “It really is a form of mass portraiture,” said Gregory.

There will be mundane moments and, the organizers hope, real emotions. “We had some amazing times in rehearsal where we were overwhelmed by the extraordinary people and their lives. Especially when you talk to people about their work.

Jean Armstrong, who owns Shiloh coffee roasters with her husband, Mark, will roast beans and serve coffee and talk about his work. “I love talking to people about coffee and who we are, especially on the ethical side,” she said. “I am really excited.”

John armstrong
Jean Armstrong: “I like to talk to people about coffee and about who we are all. “ Photograph: Christopher Thomond / The Guardian

Kev Devonport, 49, from Leeds, is now an artist but was a drug dealer, spending much of his life in prison. He will be there on Saturday to talk about his life and hopes that will encourage others.

Art helped change his life, he said. ” This has not been easy. I really had to swim against the tide. You go from a world where you are accepted and trustworthy, the criminal world, to a world where people don’t trust you and they reject you.

Most spectators are unlikely to stay for the entire performance, although they can if they wish. “You can absolutely make sense of the project if you want to be part of it,” said Gregory. It is expected that some people will be able to enter for a period of time, go shopping and come back.

Amy Letman, Creative Director of the Leeds Transform International Performance Festival, said she would be happy to be there for the duration. “At first I was thinking ‘wow, 12 noon’ but I’ve been to the three open rehearsals in Manchester and you can’t leave they draw you in. It’s about celebrating the extraordinary in everyone.”