If you only do one big thing in NYC, let it be this.
‘Sleep No More’ in New York City is an immersive theatre experience. Essentially, it’s an unconventional moving theatre where guests actively follow actors and story lines, and each guest sees a completely different show. With a non-linear story and non-speaking actors, guests each leave with their own takeaways from the mysterious and borderline erotic show. Are you still with me? Let me break it down.
You and your group show up to the fictional 1930’s era McKittrick Hotel, are given a playing card ‘room key’ and led into a smoky, red velvet curtained bar where the attractive bartender behind the absinthe fountain asks “What will you be having tonight, doll?” or “What can I get ya, kid?”. Impressively, all of the staff stay in character both in disposition and language spoken the entire time. Once you’ve enjoyed a few classic[ly strong] cocktails in vintage glassware, the maître d’hôtel summons certain playing card suits into the elevator. Here’s where you’ll most certainly be separated from your friends. This is by design, and so that each guests can make the experience as much or as little as they desire.
You’ll be led with a group of strangers into an elevator and given a white beak mask (the type that Doctors wore during the plague) that keeps all of the guests anonymous. These masks are key as they allow guests the anonymity that will encourage them to be a little braver in how closely they interact with the actors and set.
With little instruction, you’ll be let out on one of the 6 floors of the 100,000 square-foot building, free to wander and explore whatever physical item, room, or person piques your interest. As you explore you’ll encounter actors and follow them to uncover their story. When you inevitably pass other actors along your journey that might interest you more you can decide to switch and trail them instead. Everyone sees a completely different version of the play and at the end you and your party will have so much fun recapping what you saw and exchanging stories. Some guests are even lucky enough to have one-on-one engagements with the actors, such as being pushed through a wall to a secret room, told a story or being taken by the hand and hurriedly led to another floor. The whole mysteriousness of the production is really an incredibly exhilarating way to experience art.
The production has been set up in its Chelsea location in New York City since 2011, and is based upon the 2003 London production. There are 6 floors with endless hallways, rooms and doors.
The set is painstakingly detailed, and guests are encouraged to interact with the set as much as they please. You can read love notes in the bedroom, go through receipts in the tailor shop or read patient files in the medical room.
Of the over 100 different rooms and environments, there is a forest, bedrooms, bathrooms, stores, a ballroom, a graveyard (which you may or may not choose to run out of ASAP), a restaurant, etc.
The actors for the most part do not speak. Instead, every exchange is conveyed through meaningful looks, facial expressions, body language and physical actions.
The story itself is loosely based off of MacBeth, but it has a sexier, film noir vibe. The cynicism of the characters is palpable as you watch the scenes play out. The actors are very talented at exuding whatever emotion is relevant to the scene. It feels voyeuristic, which is where the masks come into play, allowing guests to let their guard down a bit. You may find yourself the only person in a room with an actor and it feels odd at first to get so close to the person as to read the note they hold in their hand, but if you keep an open mind going into the experience you can really get into the clue collecting aspect of it.
A few things to know:
- You can’t take your mask off until the end, the only people without masks are the actors
- You’ll be separated from your group (it’s better this way), but will end up in the same place at the end
- It’s eerie, but not scary. Nobody will be jumping out at you like a haunted house but you may be startled by running into another guest around a corner.
- Expect nudity. The show radiates sexuality in a film noir-esque sense. A lot of the scenes have more of a psychosexual element…not trashy, but artful. Like tasteful side boob, y’know?
- Skip the heels. Wear comfortable shoes. It’s 6 floors, sometimes you may be running after an actor, there are areas where the floor will be cobblestone and it’s dark!
To get a fulsome sense of the story, you’d have to go to the show multiple times. The friend who introduced it to me has been 3 times, and a staff member told us of a woman who had been 159 times! I can’t say I left knowing exactly what the story was, but I think that’s the point. It’s open to interpretation. The set is so elaborate that you could discover a plethora of exciting clues in every visit you had. The only thing holding you back might be the cost. At $105-$145 USD per head, it’s not exactly a casual night out. But I promise you, you won’t regret it! It’s worth the extra credit card charges (hey – this isn’t a finance blog, okay?).
Get tickets here: https://mckittrickhotel.com/