If you are in any way involved with the performing arts scene of New York City, or just a theater and/or dance buff from around town, then you have most likely heard of Sleep No More. Procuring its name from a line of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Sleep No More is billed on its website as “an award-winning theatrical experience that tells Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy through a film noir lens.” And that is the most pre-show information I would recommend for anyone who has not experienced this show yet. So, if you have not been fortunate enough to be immersed in the world of Sleep No More prior to now, do not read any further… I arrived at the McKittrick Hotel down on 27th Street around 7pm on a Thursday. The guest information sent to me in advance of my stay at the hotel provided me with instructions upon my arrival. I was placed on the ever-coveted guest list of Maximilian; a man whom no one is really sure exists. This privilege brought me to the front of the already long line of guests excitedly waiting their chance to enter the hotel where the doorman checked my ID (Sleep No More is a 21+ experience only) and a staff member escorted me in.
From there, I checked my coat and bag (this is required of all guests), I was given a playing a card, an ace of hearts specifically, and then I was pointed down a long dark hallway. From there, I was alone. I walked aimlessly for a bit until I came upon a security guard who asked me if I was here alone and if it was my first time. When I answered yes to both questions, he chuckled, shook his head at me and let me along my way. Needless to say this unsettled me a bit, but even more so excited my thrill seeking, fright loving side.
I finally found my way to a lounge. This is where you enter the world of Sleep No More. As you walk through a set of heavy velvet curtains, you are transported into a hazy speak easy jazz lounge of the 1920s. You no longer feel that you are in a controlled, monitored performance event, and soon forget that reality. This is life now. You are encouraged to indulge in the bar and then to sit and relax until a man, who was yet to be seen within the lounge, calls your playing card. I chose to sip on some sweet prosecco and then took my seat at my reserved cocktail table in Maximilian’s roped off section.
After watching the other bemused guests trickle in and grab drinks for a while, a man finally did appear out of what seemed to be nowhere and called for all guests holding ace cards. We followed obediently into a small, dark room where we were finally given our famous Sleep No More audience member masks. We were then given brief instructions: keep your masks on all evening, no talking for the rest of the night, no phones, anyone who becomes too overwhelmed can return to the lounge at any point, and finally, that fortune favors the bold in the McKittrick.
At this point, I will leave the rest of my night and personal experience to the imagination. For Sleep No More thrives on the imagination and the mind’s natural ability to expect what is next. And, honestly, you cannot possibly expect what ever comes next in the McKittrick.
Sleep No More guests have access to five massive floors of the hotel, all with innumerable hidden rooms and passage ways (early reviews boast that there are over 100 different rooms to be explored). Anywhere you go, you are never reminded that this is not real life and that these are artists doing their jobs. The details from the lights to furniture to the books on the bookshelves are all fully thought out and completely well done.
The same sentiment is easily extended to, and is applicable twenty times over, when concerning the “residents” of the hotel (i.e. the performing artists of the company). Each performer embodies their character and goes above and beyond while performing in this over three-hour show. The physical and psychological demands on the artists are unreal and virtually unimaginable. However, you would never be able to tell how exhausting such a feat is when experiencing the production.
In the Sleep No More environment, the audience surrounds the performers. The audience is part of the scenery and is basically the final character of the entire show. As an audience member, you are able to be as involved and up close with the artists as you want. This element of Sleep No More is what makes what these performers do each night that much more incredible. The ability to stay in character, remember three hours of material, and dance and act fully while being surrounded by dozens of strangers in strange white masks is astounding and easily explains why this dance-theater experience is, and has been, constantly in such high demand, even six years after the show’s 2011 opening.
As a current student of the Juilliard School’s dance division, I greatly appreciated and whole-heartedly admired the difficulties and intricacies of this kind of performance. It is a marathon of high quality, high intensity dancing and acting with little to no margin for error. The level of skill, technique, experience, and artistry to be a part of this amazing world is sky-high. To shameless segue from that statement, it was even more thrilling for me to experience such marvelous artists due to the fact that a very dear friend of mine as well as a Juilliard alumnus, Nate Carter III, performed Banquo the night I was fortunate enough to attend. In fact, there are nearly a dozen artists currently performing with Sleep No More who are Juilliard alumni. Such alumni include current faculty members, Risa Steinberg and Bobbi Jene Smith. Besides school pride, I mention this because it continues to prove the fact that Sleep No More at the McKittrick Hotel deserves the praise it receives and more. Many may write off this production because it is a huge draw for tourists; however, so many of the audience members that I know of are fellow performing artists and repeat guests.
Sleep No More is an experience that will stick with you for years afterwards. It affects everyone who walks, and at times runs, through it in very personal ways, and in no way that any other theatrical experience could. It is a one-of-a-kind production that will never disappoint and will always leave you wanting more.