Last week my S.O. and I had tickets to attend Sleep No More, which I understood to be a limited-run, slightly scary, interactive theatre experience. A couple days before the show, I received an email with the above instructions. I’m a wuss about a) the dark, and b) pretty much everything else. Needless to say, the “safety” section scared me shitless.
Three large bouncers in fancy security garb greet you in front of the the five-story, faux hotel called The McKittrick. They check your ID and let you through a huge, and I mean really huge, door. You hustle down a startlingly dark hallway, at the end of which you are given a playing card, mine was the four of diamonds, and check all of your coats and bags. “Make sure everything fits in your pockets securely – you will be running around a lot. Just hang on to a credit card if you want to grab a drink at the bar,” the coat check person may tell you.
Next, you head down a dark, twist and turn-y hallway, holding onto the walls for support, until you suddenly find yourself in the candlelit, red velvet-draped hotel bar straight out of the 1930s. It’s loud with the grooves of a jazz band onstage, groups of friends chatting loudly, and a drunk as fuck MC, who makes his way around the room during songs with many an “Excuse me, dahling…Pardon me, dear.” Charming, strange and ridiculous, he/the scene/your gin and tonic are the ultimate interactive theatre lube.
When the number on your card is called, you join a group of other patrons to wait for an elevator. Your temporary guide hands everyone a white mask. He explains as he hustles you onto the large freight elevator that you are not to take the mask off ever, nor are you to speak at all during the show. A mild panic sets in as the elevator jars to a stop and the doors open to darkness. The first woman steps out onto the landing and the guide holds out an arm to stop the rest of the group from joining her. We see her turn around with wide eyes before the door shuts her out with a clang. He lets out a low laugh, “I just did her a favor. It is best to go alone.”
It’s hard to describe what happens next because it’s all a blur. After getting off the elevator (in a group that included my S.O., thank god) I dawdled around, tinkering with props. Feeling bold, I struck the keys of a piano, then ran away. I rustled some letters on a desk, flipped through some books, examined a cabinet, not really sure what I was supposed to be doing. Then we heard music. My S.O. and I wandered over to the edge of a balcony that overlooked another floor and saw two actors, identified by their 1930s clothing and lack of masks, dancing a foxtrot in the middle of the large room below. I watched, in a trance, as they swept about the floor to the hauntingly creepy track playing in the background.
After a few minutes, I left the balcony and waved my S.O. over to follow me. He approached and I gestured as best as I could “Let’s separate!” and he nodded in understanding. He went right, I went left, and the night really began.
Without saying too much more, because it really is about individual discovery, Sleep No More is a total experience. Every masked audience member is left to his/her own anonymous devices. You can explore the building itself, or you can find actors and follow them around as they perform a loose, fragmented interpretation of Macbeth. I did a mix of both, my short attention span had me running up and down to various floors, following any unusual sounds I heard. You might interact with the actors one-on-one, or you may not (I had very personal one-on-ones with two different actors – perhaps I was the right amount of awkward and eager?). You may get lost as you amble along, or you may approach the space more methodically. You may see all of the actors at some point, or you may not.
There is no wrong way to do Sleep No More. Follow your gut as you explore, and you’ll have an entirely unique experience. It is intense, fantastical, strange, and so fun. I don’t see how I could not go again.
Tickets to this Punchdrunk performance are expensive, but worth every penny. An experience not to be missed.
And no, this is not a sponsored post. I seriously just loved it that much.