Almost exactly a year ago, I peaked in life: I attended the greatest show of my life at The McKittrick Hotel in Manhattan, Sleep No More. The ticket and book about the show were a 21st birthday present to me from my mother dearest. She knew how obsessed I was with the show ever since I first read Macbeth in high school and especially after Gossip Girl produced episode where the main characters attended the premiere of the show.
In 2011, The McKittrick Hotel on W27th Street in Chelsea was renovated to become a stage for the production of Sleep No More. Five floors of it are dedicated to the set of the production while the rooftop garden, Gallow Green, serves as a brunch restaurant and bar. There is another bar outside the entrance to the production called The Manderley Bar and a steakhouse, The Heath, for you to dine at on one of the lower if not ground floors. While I’ve never been to the restaurant, I’ve been to Gallow Green twice. The first time I fell in love with it was actually on a date three years ago.
How It Works
The production itself is also wordless, strictly relying on music, costumes, dance, noises, lighting, and body language to tell the story. There is zero talking, zero use of cameras or technology, and 100% use of your sense to enjoy the production. Actors tell the story of Macbeth through all those other tools of expression and lead crowds from one scene to another before everyone is summoned to the finale in the ballroom.
As an audience member of Sleep No More, you are instructed to wear a mask and required to stay silent throughout the whole three hour production. Although never strictly stated, your non-official instructions are to wear comfortable shoes, move freely around the 5 stories at your own pace, follow whichever actors you wish, explore and investigate the room by touching objects and opening drawers alone or in groups, and to maintain eye contact with any actor you choose. Actors typically only interact with you if you make eye contact, which signals to them that you are allowing them to approach you or touch you.
When you first enter the ticket desk before the Manderley Bar, you are given a card. I was a Queen. You are called into the production based on your card group. It is said that the last person to enter the elevator gets dropped off alone at the top floor and receives a one-on-one interaction with an actor. With that in mind, I manipulated my way around the waiting room and managed to secure the spot, only to have the actor accidentally take the girl next to me instead of me when the time came for the interaction (I internally screamed). I guess the theatre gods knew what I had up my sleeve…
The layout of the theater is as follows:
- 5th Floor: the first floor you arrive at, an asylum with no patients but cots, tubs, cells, offices, and gated forest with a small hut (where the one-on-one actor interaction takes place)
- 4th Floor: two-room apartment, a version of Manderley bar, candy room, darkroom, shops
- 3rd Floor: Macduff family apartment, Macbeth’s room, statue garden, cemetary
- 2nd Floor: hotel lobby, sitting areas, cabaret stage, offices, dining area
- 1st Floor: ballroom and mezzanine
Since the entire production lasts 3 hours, actors are on a one-hour loop. If you are following a specific actor and find yourself repeating a scene, find a new actor and follow him or her. At the end of all three hours, you will be lead to the finale by whichever actor you’re with. There are 25 actors in total who rotate shows. The actors are in costumes that resemble styles of the 1930s, and the set and lighting mimic that of film noir.
If at any point in time you’re not comfortable or wish to leave, you may always exit the production floors. There is someone to assist you at all the exits.
The Storyline & Significance
Have you ever read Macbeth? If not, go read it. Then go buy your ticket. I’m not spoiling the details of this show for you! You absolutely have to experience the adaption of it in Sleep No More yourself.
The only warnings and pieces of advice I can give you is this:
- There is an orgy scene among the three witches where there is very loud screaming, strobe lights, and a male reproductive organ is chopped off. If you get splattered with the blood like I did, don’t worry. It’s chocolate syrup and comes off in the wash completely.
- If you get the chance, follow one of the witches. They have the best loops.
- Don’t stick with your friends. Explore on your own. It’s worth it. If you get scared easily, just remember it’s all fake once the lights go on.
- You won’t fully grasp every bit of the entire story unless you go many times and attempt to follow all the characters.
At the end of the production, which is mildly graphic but not that bad, you will be escorted out to the Manderley Bar for music and cocktails. And if you’re a Gossip Girl lover like me, see if you can find the spot they shot Serena waiting for Max…
Personally, this show holds a huge place in my heart for many reasons. The first is how the director and actors put together a wordless production that tells a story better than a normal speaking performance would. Second, I love dance. I love music. The way these talented actors were able to convey a message to me using nothing but their eyes and bodies is unparalleled. Last but not least, it is a production that is catered not towards the stage but towards the audience. Although you’re technically conformed as one unit because you’re wearing the same masks that only show your eyes, you are treated as a part of the production. You are part of the interactions, part of the plot, part of the stage. You get to explore, form a story of your own, and bond with others through movement and eye contact. This means your experience in Sleep No More is unique no matter how many times you go and how many people you are with. What I saw differed heavily from what my my friends who came with me saw because we followed different actors at different times. If that’s not incredible, I don’t know what is.
A year later, I’m still floored and mesmerized by the phenomenal theatrical performance I witnessed. If you’re a lover of literature, of the arts, or just enjoy a f*cking good show, get your tickets and see the production for yourself. You’ll fall in love with tragedy and the light that lives in the darkness. Je vous promets.