by Sara Turner.
I mentioned recently that I saw the Off Broadway show Sleep No More and I would like to share this story because it’s freaking crazy. The first time I saw it I walked out of the venue and had to sit down on the sidewalk in New York City just to get my grasp on reality back. The second time I went was even scarier.
I heard from my friend about this show and was so intrigued to go. When you buy your tickets, you don’t even know what you are buying tickets for because they act like it’s a real hotel. With my best friend Hannah, we walked to 27th street to a warehouse and the only reason I knew it was the right place was because there was a line outside the door. Otherwise, you would never know it was the venue because there are no signs.
When you are inside, you “check in” and they give you a playing card as your ticket. I got the five of hearts. With your key in hand, you go through a dark maze that leads you into a 1930s style nightclub where you can purchase absinthe*. The dark maze scared me so much because you think someone is going to grab you. They recommend that you arrive between seven and eight but it you don’t go in until they call your number. Once they call you up, you go into a room behind curtains with about fifteen other people. This part is when things get freaky.
Behind the curtains lies an elevator, which leads to all of the eighty rooms within the hotel to explore. A very dapper man explains the rules of the hotel in a very seductive way. He provides you with a mask that covers the top half of your face and leaves the mouth to breath, almost like a duckbill.
The rules are simple: no talking and the people in black masks inside are there for your protection, not to guide you. I stepped onto the elevator with Hannah and as this was my second time, Hannah was going to follow me so she would not miss important things. The bellhop dressed in 1930s style clothing, as they all were, pulled me in particular aside and held onto me. He told us that if the hotel became too much for us that we can always go back to the bar. Then he stopped the elevator and said, “And remember ladies and gentlemen, fortune favors the bold. Everyone off.” I turned around and got off thinking everyone was behind me, but he laughed and the door shut immediately. I was alone and unintentionally had left Hannah behind. The first time I went, we all got off the elevator together, so this time I was terrified.
While you are inside the hotel, the story of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in 1930s dress is going on and you are dropped off into their world. You are a fly on the wall and get to watch these people’s lives. The actors don’t recite lines or put on a show. Instead, they live the story and run throughout the hotel. If they do talk, it’s muttered under their breath or brief but not meant for an audience’s ears. It’s like you’re invisible while watching this tragedy unfold. When you follow the actors, they pretend you aren’t there, or they will move you if you are in their way. However, there are some moments where the actors will take a person to a room and only that actor has a key to that room. Most of the time, you can either follow whomever you want or you can go explore the eighty rooms that are fully decorated with actual props and furniture from the play. You can go through people’s things like luggage or mail. You can open people’s letters and read them. Nothing is off limits. It’s about showing yourself how far you are willing to cross that boundary of personal space. That mask they provide you helps you let go of your inhibitions and no longer do you answer to societal norms.
The actors run through their tracks three times throughout the night because obviously as a participant, you can’t see it all. You are in there for three hours while the lights are dim and music plays the whole time.
Now that that is explained, back to what was waiting for me when I got off the elevator. I was staring at a long corridor that reminded me of The Shinning. There was no music playing and the lights were all on. Suddenly, I heard wheels rolling around the corner. I realized the only place I could go was toward that sound. I turned the corner and saw a nurse with a wheelchair, her back facing me. As she heard me, she turned and motioned toward the seat for me to come sit. Cautiously, I sat in her chair. She was blonde and about twenty-five wearing an old school nurse’s cap. She rolled me backwards so I couldn’t see where I was going. She took me into a pitch black room, reclined the wheel chair into a bed, and closed the door. I was laying in the dark for about a minute, which seemed so long at the time because all I kept thinking is, “oh god, this is where they do the experiments. I’m dead.” I was freaking out and clutching my jeans. Thank god I had been there before because I knew that they weren’t going to do anything to me, but all of sudden a voice over came on in the room.
I realized the voice was reciting the first line from the novel, Rebecca, which is also a messed up story like Macbeth. As the voice became louder, lights came on above me to reveal a miniature town on the ceiling. The town mimicked what the voice over was saying about it. Once it ended, the nurse propped me back up, grabbed my hand and dragged me down the hall. She then put her hands on my cheeks, said, “we can never go back”, and kissed my neck. In one swift motion, she opened a door and had me back out into the hotel. I never saw that room again or that nurse. It was a dream inside a dream.
That night was filled with so much surprise and it was completely different from the last time I saw it. That’s the amazing thing about this show is that every time you go you will have a different experience. Lady Macbeth took me into her room after she got out of a bath. Yes, a naked Lady Macbeth and I ran upstairs to her room and I watched her go insane. It was awesome. I watched Macbeth kill the king with a pillow in front of me. That experience made me so sick because I was just standing there watching it happen, but obviously I couldn’t do anything. It was so intimate. Most of the moments during the show make you feel like you shouldn’t be there because it’s so intense.
By the end, I was so tired and so wrapped up in that world. Hannah and I went to McDonalds and sat there for two hours talking about what had just happened to us. We had completely different stories to tell. She said to me, “I feel like when we are old and looking back at life, we will question if this was real or a dream.”
*, an anise-flavored drink that was once outlawed
about Sleep No More
about interactive theatre at The Guardian