36 Hours in New York City: Sleep No More

The main reason Jon and I went to New York City was to see Sleep No More.  Which, if you live in New York City and you haven’t seen Sleep No More, GET ON IT!!!  And if you don’t live in New York City you should still go see it, because, yeah.

Um, so, what to say about Sleep No More?  It is by Emursive Punchdrunk, a British company that creates immersion theatrical experiences.  In April of 2011, the company took three warehouses in west Chelsea and transformed them into the McKittrick Hotel, a five-story, 100+ room 1930s style, film-noiresque hotel.  And when you purchase a ticket to Sleep No More, you are essentially making a reservation to spend three amazing hours in that hotel, and with the many creepy, murderous, disturbed people who inhabit it.  You are not sitting in a seat in a theater, watching things onstage, you are given permission to get deeply involved with the space and the actors within it.

No, this is not a haunted house.  This is Macbeth. Well, nominally Macbeth.  There is also some Hitchcock and some Rebecca and some detective story as well.  What there isn’t a lot of is dialogue.  Or linear story-telling.  But, as long as you know your basic Macbeth, you’ll be fine.

So here’s what happened with Jon and me, during our stay at the McKittrick.  We had a 7:00 reservation, and we lined up outside of the space around 6:50.  While waiting outside in line Tyra Banks (yes, the model Tyra) drove by in an SUV and started talking to some dude on the sidewalk.  She also cursed at a cab driver behind her, but that is neither here nor there.  We actually forgot we saw Tyra until Sunday, we were so blown away by the show.

At 7:00 precisely we were let inside.  We checked our bags and jackets (no purses, no coats allowed) and were each given a playing card.  We were then funneled through a pitch black, twisty hallway which emerged into an awesome, old-school speakeasy complete with a jazz singer and absinthe and a full bar.  But, there was no time to enjoy the bar, because an emcee immediately started calling numbers that corresponded to the playing cards.  My card was a 2, and they called 2s and Aces first, so off I went!  Jon had a 3 so he was called in the next group, and we were immediately split up–but don’t worry, this is a great thing!  Let yourself get split up, it makes the experience better.

The 2s and the Aces went into a little ante chamber where we were given white Venetian plague masks that covered our whole face.  We were told by two creepy bellhop types that we could not talk and we could not touch the inhabitants of the hotel, but that everything else was fair game.  We were then led into an elevator.  The elevator stopped at each floor and 5-6 people were let off.  I was one of the last ones out, and I found myself in a darkened hallway.  To my left was a somewhat shabby looking domestic interior.  To my right a darkened room with gravestones and fog.  I decided to go right.

I immediately found myself in a graveyard, with gravestones and fog and creepy moonlight and a random baby stroller and oh man guys, my heart was pounding and it was amazing.  The next room I wandered into was full of foggy, moonlit ruins and old statuary.  And beyond the ruins, in the distance, I saw a room all in glass and two people, a man and a woman, performing a heated dance.  I hurried to the glass room and quickly found myself in the middle of awesomeness.

The two people, you see, were Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and they were having a crazy dance-fight.  There were handwritten notes strewn all over the room.  I picked some up, I read them.  You can do that in Sleep No More, you see–touch things.  You can rifle through drawers.  You can eat candy in a candy shop.  You can climb into someone’s bed.  You can’t touch the actors, but they can and will touch you.  The actors are really more dancers, there is minimal dialogue–and such dancing!  I’ve never seen such acrobatic dancing, these people are climbing the walls quite literally!  I have no idea how they are not full of broken bones and broken backs and bruises etc.–maybe they are, they just hide it well?  So anyways, no dialogue, but like I said, if you know your basic Macbeth you’re all set.

Anyways, I watched Macbeth and Lady Macbeth fight for a bit, and then Macbeth tore out of the room.  A few audience members and I ran after him.  Wear comfortable shoes, for real, you’ll be doing a lot of running and standing and climbing of stairs.  He fled down two flights of stairs and a few darkened rooms (this is not a well lit place, also, so just, be warned) and stopped in a room where there was a man sleeping.  And then I got giddy because, guys, that was King Duncan, and Macbeth was totally going to kill King Duncan!  And he totally did and it was AMAZING because it was so intimate because it was only me and one other dude in a white mask watching this. And then King Duncan died, and Macbeth fled back upstairs to his bedroom and Lady Macbeth, and I followed, and a bath scene happened, and it was at that point that I decided to detach myself from Macbeth’s immediate story to see what else I could find.

Because that’s the awesomeness of this show guys–you can follow a character around, you can wander and see what you find, you can explore the rooms.  You can do a little bit of each–that’s what I did.  I followed Macbeth a lot, and some witches, and Banquo (I think?) and Lady MacDuff.  But I also wandered through empty rooms and ate candy and played with samples of bugs and hair and herbs.  Each room is more incredible, more detailed, more fully realized than the next.  The set designers and propmasters clearly had the time of their lives designing this place, and they encourage you to turn it into your playground.  When the emcees stick you in that white mask they liberate you to do anything you want.  I got very close to the actors at multiple times and I didn’t care, and they didn’t care, because I was a ghost to them.  The white mask sets you free. 

Sleep No More has so many amazing scenes, and there is no way you will see them all.  Each actor goes through his or her routine three times, so you can catch multiple things multiple times from multiple angles while still missing other things entirely (evidently there was a ton of stuff happening in a hotel lobby on the first floor that I never saw).  Jon saw things I didn’t see, I saw things he didn’t see.  I saw several fights in a town square, I saw a nurse counting nails, I saw Lady Macbeth get thrown fully clothed into a bathtub.  I also saw her climb fully naked out of a bathtub–there is a lot of nudity in this show, just be prepared.  I saw Macbeth murder Banquo with a brick in this gross, dirty bar and I was the only person who witnessed it, guys.  I saw, three times, this amazing prophecy/orgy/rave scene where Macbeth receives foreknowledge from three crazy, creepy, sexy witches.  The rave scene involves a lot of blood and a bull head and lots of nakedness and techno music and strobe lights and dancing and a bloody baby doll and don’t miss it guys, really, it is an unbelievable scene.  But the quieter scenes are just as lovely, especially if you are lucky enough to stumble upon a room that has a solo actor, and it is just you witnessing this actor performing this scene, and you feel so privileged and also so creepy because you are a voyeur and this is what you have been given permission to do.  And don’t worry, there is an official end, and odds are you will be there to witness it.

I mean what else can I say about Sleep No More, guys?  Go see it, for realsies, I’m trying to figure out how to go again because it was that amazing.  So here are some tips for Sleep No More:  get the earliest ticket time available, as the place gets more crowded as they let people in, and it is really excellent to be able to spend some time in the place when it is mostly empty.  Wear comfortable shoes.  Don’t be afraid to go off on your own and separate from your friends, or to go into a creepy dark room, or to open closed doors or to open closed cabinets or to open anything at all that is currently shut.  Don’t get too hung up on following a single actor–there is plenty else to see, and it is very easy to loose them.  Don’t worry about seeing everything, or trying to follow the story, just immerse yourself in the experience and enjoy the amazing, creepy, crazy atmosphere.  Don’t worry about an actor kicking you in the face–there are a number of stagehand people around in black masks to make sure that the actors don’t trample you.  Sleep No More is one of the best shows, and perhaps the best and most unusual theatrical experience, I have ever seen.  I’m trying to figure out how to go again, because it has stuck with me.  Jon and I still talk about it on the regular.  Seriously, it was that good.

I mean, it made us forget all about seeing Tyra Banks!!!  That is quite a feat, don’t you think?

GUYSSS  go see Sleep No More, go see it now!

3 thoughts on “36 Hours in New York City: Sleep No More

  1. Dude! I kind of skimmed through your raving about this thing but didn’t really read the description til now and OH MY GOD I WANT TO GO SOOOO BADLY IT HURTS! It sounds extreme and exciting and I have never been to anything like what you’ve described. Was it mad expensive? How far in advance do you have to make reservations? When does it run til?

    1. Jenny, it was super incredible and I am DYING to see it again but I don’t think I’ll have the funds (reality, sigh). Tickets are expensive-ish but are typical for NYC prices ($85-$105 depending) and the show typically sells out at least two-three weeks in advance so I’d recommend getting tickets early. We got tickets for a mid-April show toward the end of February. Right now it is playing through mid-July but as far as I know they have not announced a closing date, and will probably continue to extend it as long as it continues to sell out.

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