Category Archives: sleep no more

Sleep No More 2: Return to the Graveyard

After rambling about it to anyone who would listen and thinking about it so much it invaded my dreams, I decided I had to go back to Sleep No More. You may remember my first visit, or had it related over drinks as I tried to recreate for you encountering a bloody dance scene involving a ram’s head in a bar or finding myself alone with a character as she recited a story to me. If not, I’ll give you the quick summary of what Sleep No More is, because to just call it a play or an artist’s haunted house or a club that happens to have a taxidermy shop doesn’t exactly cover it.

It’s billed as an interactive, immersive production of Macbeth, utilizing 100 rooms in a building in Chelsea that have been transformed into everything from a hotel lobby for the McKittrick Hotel, the Vertigo locale where supposedly where this is all taking place, to a witch’s hut. While there is an almost constant soundtrack of music, some played from radios, others from hidden speakers, the actors are mostly mute and the audience is asked to do the same. Also, all the audience members wear white, Eyes Wide Shut-type masks (shown above). Besides that, you are free to roam, find the fragments of plot to stitch together, chase after characters, and open any drawer or door, assuming it is unlocked for you.

Unlike my first visit, I knew what to expect as I got my playing card that served as my ticket and winded through the dark hallways to the bar with its David Lynchian red curtains and enthusiastic emcee. This means I didn’t have to immediately get an expensive gimlet to calm my nerves. I was worried that there wouldn’t be as much to discover, yet while I now sort of know the lay out, I only saw two scenes that I’d previously witnessed, and even then the dancers were different, making it a new experience. I was less stressed out about seeing every single room and could let myself focus more on the action. With a whole three hours worth of new information, I’m able to connect little dots, like characters who were talking to each other on the phone, or figure out where the seemingly random brawls that broke out in the streets had boiled up from. I feel like I have more depth to the experience. I really loved a review I read where someone said it was almost like we were haunting these awful, horrible moments the characters were trapped in. That although we were the ones acting like ghosts, they were like phantoms spinning over the same doomed paths, we were just their witnesses, unable to change their fates.

It’s a disorienting experience and, as before, I’m left with what feels like a disjointed dream with vivid moments. I remember holding an umbrella for the undertaker as he buried bones in the graveyard, the same bones I’d seen clawed out by the taunting taxidermist. I watched one of the witches literally climb up a wall and Hecate give a deeply disturbing performance to a slowed down Peggy Lee song that will stay with me for a while. I discovered a secret passageway and a tiny cemetery hidden away in a previously closed room. I felt the echo of “blood will have blood” throughout the tormented space. Even though it seemed a little more crowded that my last visit, I still found myself alone with characters and at the end of the night the same woman I’d encountered before led me by the hand back down to the bar and left me with a kiss on the cheek. The next day I noticed dark dirt on the bottom of my boots and realized it was from the graveyard.

The show has just been extended again to mid-September, so go if you can! If nothing else, so that we can discuss everything in the detail that I don’t want to reveal here. And you know I’ll go with you, because I could go broke attending this thing. Or should I just redecorate my apartment with some red curtains and maybe a secret graveyard? Sounds nice. I’m unscrewing all the lightbulbs now.

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Sleep No More

Souvenirs of Sleep No More.

I’m with four other young women and we are chasing Macbeth down an alleyway towards pulsing electronic music. We’ve followed him through the streets, from his home where his wife washed the blood off his naked skin. We find ourselves in a smoky club surrounded with people wearing strange white masks, the same that we ourselves are wearing. Suddenly, a strobe light spulses and a pagan orgy ensues on the tables just inches from us. Our Macbeth is bloody once more.

This was just within the first hour of my three hour experience at Sleep No More, a reimagining of Shakespeare’s Macbeth with heavy brushes of Hitchcock’s Rebecca in 100 rooms of the “McKittrick Hotel.” The hotel is actually an old warehouse in Chelsea, but the rooms are so incredibly detailed in their decoration you forget you’re even in New York. (Or that you have to go to work in the morning.) At one point, I was leaning against a table and realized it was dusty, then realized there was no way it could already be dusty from time. You can open drawers, cabinets, look through microscopes, type on typewriters, and study cases of taxidermy birds, and this is all without engaging in the action constantly taking place around you.

I was in the very first group of the night, and first found myself alone in a hospital where a nurse was cutting pages from a Bible, then I wandered into a dark forest maze that had a taxidermy mountain goat at its center. Even if you come with friends, it’s almost impossible to stay together with everyone wearing the same mask and characters offering you their hands. I don’t want to give too much away by going into great detail, although it would be impossible to have the same experience twice. All the action plays out simultaneously in an hour loop, and in vocal silence. I spent the first hour following Macbeth (sometimes running after him, once almost losing him in a forest of lighted trees), which gave me a good idea of who the characters were. Later in the night, the major characters sort of formed “posses” of people who were following them and great crowds would meet at pivotal scenes. Which is when I decided to follow the less central characters, like the man who worked in the taxidermy shop, who I stalked alone into a foggy graveyard where he dug a skull from the earth. I also visited with the bartender who first writhed on a mortuary table and later danced with me and offered me mysterious shots. There were opportunities to go into locked rooms alone with the characters, if you so dared. I did once, and ended up with a kiss, a necklace, and the discovery of a secret passageway.

There were a few things I found frustrating, like when I realized the play was going in a loop and almost ended up at the club orgy again. (Once is enough for the naked witches and rams heads; once, and I’ll remember it forever.) It’s also been a while since I’ve read Macbeth, and I had a hard time figuring out who the characters were. All the men were wearing similar formal clothing. My friend pointed out afterward that it was a little like being in a giant Brooklyn bar, with taxidermy animals, vintage furniture, and handsome men wearing vests. (I spotted one moustache as well.) Most of the action played out in modern dance, and while often beautiful and breathtaking, especially during the fight sequences, I wished that there was a little dialogue.

I was incredibly impressed with how coordinated everything was, and how even with the end of night swarms of white masks, you could still find yourself completely alone with a character, you their only audience. This last happened to me with the wounded Banquo (or his ghost) as he dragged himself to the final banquet where all the characters are united in a slow and fatal scene.

Sleep No More recently extended its run, so there are tickets again and I definitely recommend going. I’m tempted to go again, because there were so many characters I barely got to see and rooms I hardly visited. I apparently missed a candy store!

No photography was allowed, but the New York Times has a really great photo slideshow with narration on the sets to give you an idea of the atmosphere.