I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited New York several times, and have ticked off many popular tourist experiences on my travel itinerary. In planning a recent trip, I decided to shake it up and pursue a trip that was more alternative than any I’ve had in the past. I’m a person who gets a kick out of being ever-so-slightly frightened, and is interested in unusual, strange experiences (I love to be purposely vague), and so I booked tickets for me and my friend Kam to visit the McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea for Sleep No More, an immersive theatre show produced by Punchdrunk Theatre.
It was sensational.
Sleep No More is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, set in the 1930’s, and without dialogue. It’s a style of theatre known as ‘promenade theatre’ that allows the attendees to wander about at their own pace. I don’t want to give too much away, because I very much urge all of you to go and see it for yourselves, but here’s a little about what I experienced.
Upon checking in to the vintage “hotel”, attendees were required to don white beaked masks, instructed that we were not to speak to one another, and were shuffled into an old elevator. The elevator stopped at the first floor, and my friend Kam was pushed out, whereupon the elevator doors closed and everyone else, myself included, was taken to another floor! I thought Ah shit, assuming that it wouldn’t be as much fun without my friend. Much as Kam is awesome, it was a more immersive and stimulating experience spent alone. Upon exiting the elevator, the masked audience members scatter away, each embarking on their own individual psychological trip. The surreality of the set-pieces, combined with the eeriest, most unsettling music and sounds that reverberated throughout the building (much of it Hitchock-ian), generated a delicious anxiety and foreboding! I found myself walking through a graveyard at night, a lunatic asylum, an old-fashioned detective’s agency, a sinister undertaker’s, in addition to other nightmarish rooms and freakish landscapes. Audience members may choose to follow specific actors if they so wish – each actor has a compelling role to play across several locations – or you may choose to wander the floors of the McKittrick Hotel by yourself (if this is your preference, you will still encounter many ghastly and compelling people and places). Suddenly – a bar room brawl. Suddenly – a man in a white vest storms into a room with blood smeared up to his elbows. Suddenly – an elegant, delicate ballroom performance. Everywhere you turn there are curious incidents, dalliances, and passionate (silent) performances. A woman in a glamorous red dress snarls and sweeps out of the room, the masked audience runs after her to see what she’s going to do next.
It’s an entrancing, dream-like experience. You feel that you are an invisible presence in the lives of real people. Your fellow audience members become shadow-like. It’s the feeling akin to I just woke up from the weirdest dream, and it felt so real (and that’s a cool feeling – or is it just me?)
I honestly lost all sense of time. I thought I’d spent an hour and half in the McKittrick Hotel, but in reality I had spent two and a half hours inside, just exploring and watching. My friend Kam and I found one another three hours after our separation, whereupon I was half-hysterical and drinking absinthe in the Manderley Bar. And that’s sort of out of character. I was buzzing and exhilarated and it was worth every cent.
- This is not for the faint of heart. If you can’t make it through the opening credits of a horror movie, this experience is not for you.
- Don’t drink too much of any kind of liquid before you enter into the hotel. You don’t want to have to try and find a restroom in the middle of the experience.
- You will not be talking to your friends once the experience commences, and will likely exit the show by yourself, so make plans to reassemble in the bar or somewhere close to the McKittrick Hotel.
- Your face will sweat underneath the mask, so don’t wear too much makeup.
- Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking up and down lots of stairwells, wandering on some uneven surfaces, and it’s pretty dark, so leave your high heels at home. You can also check in any coats or bags at the entrance.
You can purchase tickets for Sleep No More at SleepNoMore.com