After a restless night in a bus from Toronto to New York City (12.5 hours), a subway trip to Brooklyn on a weekend (45 minutes), Richard III (3.5 hours), lunch, dinner, jazz, and more subway, I got to the now infamous McKittrick hotel in Chelsea (a maze of 3 linked and totally transformed 6-storey warehouses) at 11:15pm.

I entered the hotel with a bunch of hip young things in fur stoles and Buddy Holly glasses, after a short wait outside in a club-type line-up. (Note: this play is trendy. Proof: it was featured on Gossip Girl and one of the crime shows, and Emma Stone’s visit was chronicled in Vanity Fair.)

From the moment you hit the coat check, everything is dark and creepy and perfectly detailed.  I never questioned that I was in a 1940s hotel.  I checked in at the counter and made my way to the bar (where I resisted the temptation to drink ‘absinthe’ or ‘a glass of bubbles’ all by my lonesome).

The Manderley Bar Photo: Allan Zepeda

A riff on Shakespeare’s Macbeth embedded in a Hitchcock film noir, Sleep No More is… what is it? A play? An art installation? Funhouse? A choose your own adventure dance-a-thon? A scavenger hunt? A nightmare?

The thing is, because it is a totally immersive, instinct- and curiostity-driven experience, no one’s time at Sleep No More is the same.

Livi Vaughan, Associate Designer for Punch Drunk, explains the concept pretty well in this Cool Hunting Capsule Video: Sleep No More video (and you get to see the taxidermy shop!):

My own experience began with a good half-hour of me tentatively creeping from room to room, ready for a scare, ready for someone to jump out from behind a curtain and force me to do improv.  The eerie, morphing soundscape kept my nerves and senses totally awake until I finally came across a character doing something.

You’re meant to follow the actors from room to room and discover bits and pieces of the story as you go.  I feel like I missed out because I wasn’t quick enough to find a narrative thread to follow.

Was it because I watched Duncan sleeping for an uncomfortable amount of time, thinking maybe he’d get killed soon?  Or that I just kept being in the wrong place for the big moments?  I did finally stumble into the ballroom scene, where the audience and characters all seemed to congregate.

 

A scene from Sleep No More (that I actually saw!) Photo credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

But to be fair, each room is so detailed and interesting in itself, that I was never bored. I was always scared of what I’d stumble on by looking too closely.  I do love weird photos, letters, things in jars, and taxidermied animals eating one another.

So I may have ended up seeing Macbeth being washed of blood and Lady MacBeth’s amazing dance into insanity, and I may or may not have been kissed on the neck by a witch, but I missed stuff.

I was there. Photo by Sara Krulwich / The New York Times

It’s very possible that if at 1:00 am I didn’t feel like I was going to barf and faint and freak out all of a sudden and at the same time, I would have caught a psychedelic orgy, gory baby, a few murders, and a slow-mo banquet.

Who stage-managed this extraordinary feat?

But it was hot, I hadn’t slept in 43 hours, and it was a freakin’ emotional night. So I ran down 6 flights of stairs and got more water at the bar. I wanted more. But instead, I got into a cab, my mind filled with messed up and beautiful images and sensations.

I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.  So I guess I didn’t actually miss out, in the end.

My taxi driver tried to convince me that the Canadian north wouldn’t be so cold if we got millions of people to move there.

And now I’m one of those people greedily plotting with my calendar to see how and when I can go back to Sleep No More. But next time, I’m not taking the night bus.

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