In 2007, a friend of mine at NYU told me about an immersive theater show that they had seen in Boston. I had never seen someone talk about a show with such fervor. I can only remember tiny details; something about Shakespeare, something about the show being staged in an old elementary school, and something about… dancing? I didn’t get it. A few years later, in March of 2011, SLEEP NO MORE opened its doors in New York. Still just as obsessed as ever, my friend had volunteered on the show by “fireproofing the apothecary,” a phrase that sounded completely ridiculous at the time, but is wholly impressive in retrospect. He had a few comp tickets, so I went.
Now, I don’t claim to be the end-all-be-all expert, but for the better part of a decade, this show has been a constant influence in my life. I’ve shelled out money that I didn’t really have in order to return to the McKittrick Hotel a dozen times since the show opened. I spent a summer working front of house on the show and sneaking into the space on my breaks. One might even say my wedding had a subtle SLEEP NO MORE theme. Particular songs, smells, or even the décor in some hip speakeasy will immediately snap me back to 2011 and the first time that I experienced the show. The memory of that very first visit led me to seek out the immersive theater community in L.A. All of this is to say that I care deeply about this show. I want to share it with others, and more importantly, I want to pass on the respect and gratitude that I feel toward the show.
Here Are the Basics:
SLEEP NO MORE is an immersive adaptation of Macbeth with a run time of about three hours. If you decide to purchase a ticket to anything other than the earliest time slot, know that you will be missing out on the very beginning of the story. That being said, the show consists of three one-hour-long loops, so if the first entry time is sold out, don’t panic. You will have two more chances to watch the “beginning” of the show as it loops back around later in the evening. Often times there are two shows per night – start times ranging from 4pm for the early birds to 10:30pm for the night owls. Whichever ticket you buy, plan on arriving at the building at least half an hour before your time slot so that you can maximize your time.
The story is primarily told through meticulously choreographed dynamic movement with almost no dialogue. In a nutshell, the actors mainly use dance to communicate. Each character has their own, unique hour-long track that unfolds in real time. Some characters are confined to a single floor while others traverse the entire building, with pathways entwining and diverging throughout. The interweaving of the characters’ tracks tells a larger story, one that could only be viewed by some omnipresent being. Basically, don’t plan on spending your evening in a seat somewhere, or in any one place for very long, for that matter.
Styled as a sandbox immersive, you have free reign to explore anywhere in the building, unless you come to a locked door or roped off area with a security guard. If you stumble upon something you’ve seen before, it’s your choice: stay and watch the scene again from a different perspective and learn more information about the characters, or go uncover another story line. It’s up to you. Some participants choose to follow the same character for their entire hour-long loop, while others can enjoy getting lost in the lavish set, letting their discovery of the story elements happen more sporadically.
There is no right or wrong way to experience the show. The only limitation is that audience members are asked to stay silent. If you’re going with a group, plan on splitting up and comparing notes later. Everyone will have a completely unique experience, and it is physically impossible to see the entire show in one night.
Level of Interaction – Who Are You?
For the most part, the characters in the show will not acknowledge you. If you happen upon an empty room with a single character inside, there is no need to wait for them to invite you in. Let your voyeuristic little heart run wild. Think of yourself as a ghost. Sometimes, characters will begin to notice you almost as if you are something that makes the hair on the back of their neck stand up. If they try to acknowledge you in any way, allow them to.
This is not a full-contact experience, but actors might extend their hand out for you to take, or place their arm around your shoulders. Sometimes even a gesture with their eyes means that you should follow them. These intimate moments can sometimes lead to very special “one-on-one” interactions.
Don’t Sweat the One-on-Ones, Please
Every character has at least one of these special one-on-one scenes built into their track, where you and the actor can enter a previously locked room alone. The experience can last a few moments or up to a few minutes. Before you get too excited, know that there can be up to 400 participants in the hotel on a busy night and each and every one of them wants a piece of that sweet, sweet, one-on-one action.
If you want to look up exactly when they happen and “how” to get them, that information exists elsewhere, but frankly, you’re setting yourself up to be disappointed. I’ve experienced actors purposely avoiding participants who were projecting that they knew when a one-on-one was coming. Plus, if you haven’t been traversing around the hotel with the character because you’ve decided to park yourself in the perfect spot for a one-on-one, you won’t even understand the context of the scene.
My personal advice? If you don’t happen to get a one-on-one (and your best chance is to get one in the first hour of the show when there are fewer participants inside) just try to let it go. Sometimes you get lucky and are in the right place at the right time. Don’t let narrowly missing a one-on-one ruin your evening.
Wear Comfortable Clothing and Shoes
The McKittrick Hotel covers about half of a New York City block and is comprised of five floors accessible by eastern and western staircases. Each floor is marked with the floor number and side of the building you’re on (for example, 3W or 4E etc.) which is helpful to notice. There are almost one hundred rooms to explore. Some are as tiny as a closet, while others are lavish ballrooms fit for royalty. Dress in such a way that allows you to say “Yes” to everything. If you want to dress up (and some participants choose to dress quite formally) just make sure that you can walk, run, sit, kneel, and generally feel comfortable and sturdy. There are city streets complete with cobblestone roads, dirt paths with dark secrets for you to explore, winding hallways, dimly lit taverns filled with earthy mulch, secret passageways with narrow squeezes, and stairs, and stairs, and stairs. It’s easy to get lost, and you should.
Your Mask Is Your Friend
SLEEP NO MORE’s most defining attribute is the white mask that audience members are asked to slip on before the show begins, and not remove until they exit the space. The masks are made of thick plastic, and tend to make your face quite sweaty by the end of the night. For those who wear make-up, I’d suggest keeping it minimal. For those who wear glasses, make it a contact day if you can. These masks are extremely important for the cast and crew to help recognize audience members, but they also provide a sense of security and anonymity for the participant. Think of them as your own personal viewfinder as you experience this incredibly cinematic show.
The Bag Check Is Mandatory
All of your belongings (coats, purses, bags, backpacks, etc.) must go in a mandatory coat check at the beginning of your experience. It will run you about $4 per item for the evening and there is an ATM inside the building if you need cash. I recommend planning ahead to minimize the number of items you’re schlepping around prior to your visit. As a former coat check employee, I had so many mind-numbing conversations through forced smiles with participants who didn’t know that their precious *insert personal item here* couldn’t come into the show with them. If you love it so much, please leave it at home. Even small cross-body bags can be a safety hazard with all of the tight spaces and everyone’s vision being impaired by the masks.
If you hide your personal items from the coat check employees, the front desk employees will send you back to coat check. If you hide them from the front desk, the security team will send you back to coat check. Basically, all roads lead to coat check. Just, please, believe me: Your items will be much safer on a hanger than they will be inside of the show.
Essentials to Keep on Your Person
There are five items that should enter the space with you. The first one is, of course, your mask. If you’re caught with it off while inside the show, several crew members called “stewards” who wear black masks will politely ask you to put it back on. The second item to keep with you is your bag check ticket. The third and fourth items are your ID and credit card in case you get thirsty during the show or want to purchase a program or souvenir at the end of the night. Prepare to keep your cards and bag check claim ticket in your pocket, bra, waistband, sock or whatever works for you.
The fifth, and the single most important item I can recommend bringing with you during your hotel stay… is a wristwatch. I know 99% of us use our phones to tell time, but please don’t risk losing your phone in there. You are not allowed to take pictures inside the space, and service can be pretty spotty at best, so your phone is essentially useless in there anyway. By having a watch handy, you should roughly be able to track not only how far along in the evening you are, but if you’re near the beginning, middle, or end of each loop. If there was something intriguing that you only caught the final moments of, try heading back to that same area about 45 minutes later. It might not work perfectly, but it’s worth a shot.
Treat the Actors like Human Beings
There is a very strict no touching policy in SLEEP NO MORE. With the number of participants that come through the show in an evening, the security team simply doesn’t have the time to deal with unruly guests. To keep everyone happy, leave a safe distance between yourself and the action and stay aware of your surroundings. Before you park somewhere to watch a scene, notice if you’re blocking any exits, or if you might be in a potentially dangerous place. Are you in a doorway? Are you teetering at the top of a flight of stairs? Is there something fragile behind you?
Use Common Sense and Be Safe
If you want to get close to an actor, perhaps to read over their shoulder as they’re writing a letter, that’s fine, but remember that they could stand up at any moment and they have no problem bumping into you to move you out of their way. Actors might also run past you like bats out of Hell, straight up three flights of stairs with a stampede of participants in tow. Often times, before a dramatic or potentially hazardous scene, actors and stewards will sweep an area clear so that the audience doesn’t get roundhouse kicked in the face. Honor the space that the actors are asking for.
If you are someone who may need assistance getting around, I believe there are services available by request. Even for locals that walk miles every day, it can still be a lot. Just remember, if at any time your sweaty face needs a break from the mask, you can always fish your credit card out of your underwear and head to the wonderful Manderley Bar. The stewards in the black masks can help direct you there.
How to Fall in Love with SLEEP NO MORE on Your First Visit
1. Brush up on your Shakespeare – If you haven’t read Macbeth since high school (no judgement here, I promise) it would be super helpful to peruse the Cliff’s Notes like you’re halfheartedly studying for a quiz in sophomore English. The characters in SLEEP NO MORE aren’t wearing name-tags, so you will have to do a little bit of deductive reasoning to figure out who everyone is.
2. For Extra Credit… – If you’re really feeling eager, track down Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film, Rebecca. Tonally, it might be an even heavier influence on SLEEP NO MORE than Shakespeare and there are a handful of characters from the movie that make appearances in the show.
3. Check out the Attractions at The Club Car – If you want to really make an evening of attending SLEEP NO MORE, The Club Car has got it all; live music, variety acts, and fine dining. The venue is located on the infamous sixth floor of the McKittrick hotel and has an ever-changing roster of special events.
4. Please Don’t go in Drunk… – It’s dark, crowded, and teeming with security cameras and discreetly placed bouncers that are all scanning the crowd for rowdy behavior.
5. …But Do Grab a Drink Afterward! – The Manderley Bar, which is where the show begins and ends, stays open after the last show of the night. It tends to be crowded, so if you’re looking for a more chill vibe, head to the roof top bar, Gallow Green. It is wonderfully atmospheric and changes its theming seasonally. Reservations are recommended, but I’ve also had pretty good luck just walking in on a weeknight without any trouble.
6. Take in Your Surroundings – The three hours that you have inside the walls of the McKittrick Hotel are yours entirely. Allow yourself time to flip through a photo album or open up a suitcase. The level of detail on the set is excruciating and deserves to be appreciated.
7. Take a Piece of Candy, But Don’t Steal any Bird Skeletons – Use common sense when interacting with the set. SLEEP NO MORE is not an escape room. The sweet shop on the fourth floor is abundantly filled with wrapped candy. Feel free to help yourself there. Other than the candy, unless a character gives something to you, the props department thanks you in advance for not stealing trinkets needlessly.
8. If You Hear Techno Music, Go Toward It – If you ever feel like you’re lost, try to keep your eyes and ears open for lighting and sound cues to help you find the action again. Rooms that aren’t being used by any actors tend to stay dimly lit and filled with a low, continuous humming sound. Some rooms also have quiet 1940’s music playing as if someone left a radio on. If you ever notice a lighting shift or perhaps hear a record scratch and the beginning of a new song, that’s your cue that something is about to go down. One of the best examples of this includes the anachronistic pulse of techno music drawing participants near for an iconic reimagining of the “double, double toil and trouble” scene that is not-to-be-missed.
9. Be the Last One to Load on the Elevator – I’m going to be intentionally vague here because the surprise is half the fun!
10. Avoid Spoilers – I’m aware of the hypocrisy here, but if you only have one chance to go through SLEEP NO MORE, try not to read detailed synopses beforehand.
SLEEP NO MORE is on a very short list of long-running, lucrative immersive theatre productions, and with good reason. While the story elements have remained basically the same since the early days of its Boston production, new cast members continue to breathe life into every scene with their specificity and passion. You can attend the show a hundred times (and trust me, people have) and you will always find something new on repeat visits. Whether you have never been to any kind of interactive theatre before, or you are an immersive creator yourself, I guarantee that this show will affect you. The information and tips that I’ve included here are just tools for you to use, so take them with a grain of salt. Ultimately, no one can tell you how to spend your time, or predict what’s going to call to you when you’re inside. When you check in for the evening, be prepared to leave the outside world behind, and enter a world full of endless choices and possibilities. For as they will tell you as you’re slipping on your mask for the evening: fortune favors the bold.
SLEEP NO MORE is currently booking tickets through January 2020; buy tickets HERE. Find out more about SLEEP NO MORE on their website, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook page. Make sure to subscribe to our Event Calendar for more immersive and theater experiences throughout the year.