CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE: Sleep No More

After spending several hours on Twine, finishing up some of my group’s Choose Your Own Adventure story, I started to think about a play that I went to see with my Shakespeare class. The play is Sleep No More and there are probably a dozens of blogs detailing everything about the experience if you want a more in depth explanation than I am about to give you.

The play is a semi-interactive adaption of Macbeth. You enter the Mckittrick Hotel. The entire building is set as the play’s stage. You are separated from your friends or group and encouraged to journey on your own, exploring different parts of the hotel. You go to different floors and depending on which floors you choose, you see different parts of the play. You wear a mask and become an anonymous face. Many choose to follow a single story by running around after the actors as they traverse the hotel.

Above is a sample of some of the awesome and slightly creepy music they play overhead as you walk around.

It is basically a live-action Choose Your Own Adventure story. It is utterly breathtaking. When we first disembarked the elevator, I was terrified. I did not want to get lost or separated from the group because I was afraid that I would not be able to find my way out when the time came. I like knowing what to do and where to go. I spent the first third of the performance following one group. After a while, I got frustrated with the crowds who kept pushing to follow an actor and waited as they stampeded passed me. I started going into empty rooms, away from the flow of masks, and every time, I unintentionally stumbled across a different scene.

I could see undertones of Macbeth in most of the scenes and identify some of the characters. There is an insane rave scene, which was the first scene I encountered, and I was terrified about what I had gotten myself into. It is very much a production of Macbeth but is in no way traditional.

“What bloody man is that?” (1.2.1) Scene from the play

One of the major draws of Sleep No More is that it is something that one has never experienced and probably will never experience again (unless one actively seeks it out). It was incandescent. In terms of Macbeth, it added a level of emotional rawness that words on a page could not emit, not even those of Shakespeare. It was in the gestures, the tender touches and embraces. Whether or not the actors spoke, I did not hear a single word and yet I felt every sentiment. I actually sympathized with Macbeth, something I never thought I would do. As much as words give us, they are not a substitute for real people, however staged their actions may be. In terms of the staging and the mechanics of the play, it was like walking in a dream. By dream, I do not mean something I desired or hoped for. I felt like I was asleep but awake at the same time. I could see, hear, and feel everything but it was so surreal.

A scene from the play, the people in mask are the audience

One of my favorite experiences was the different smells each room. I remember the smell of cherries in one room especially. Another was the graveyard. It felt like I was actually outdoors in the summer. I could feel the warm breeze. It may sound redundant because of Sleep No More being what it is, but the whole staging of the building was magnificent. I am deathly afraid of public speaking so I try to stay as far away from any acting or having to be on stage. This play is what I imagine acting to feel like for those who are passionate about it. You are inside a living, breathing work of art and it is a gorgeous feeling. It makes you nervous, scared, giddy, and excited all at once.

If I were to do it all again, I think I would still be as clueless as I was originally. I would definitely follow the pregnant lady that I saw running away with a suitcase and try to figure out her story. Unfortunately, she was the first actor I saw after getting off the elevator and I was still in my “lemming” phase. I would see what the porter was up to because he seemed the most normal, which makes me think that something was definitely up with him. I would steer clear of the witches because they scared me; the same goes for Lady Macbeth…I would spend more time looking at the little details. Apparently, opening drawers and touching things is okay. I did not know that. I doubt I would do that because I still feel like I am intruding or disturbing the space. I feel like that is why we wear the mask, to be observers. It is like walking around the world while invisible; if you move anything, they will know you are there. I am also very suspicious of some of my fellow masks. I feel like some of them were in on it and watching us instead of the play…I may just be paranoid though. I think I could see this play a million times over and still feel unsatisfied, which frustrating but invigorating because it keeps me thinking. There are just so many sides to the one story.

The show is ending March 29 and plays in Manhattan, NY. If you have a chance, I highly recommend you go see it. I mean come on, it’s a real life Choose Your Own Adventure Novel.

Sleep No More

4 thoughts on “CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE: Sleep No More

  1. I have always wanted to see Sleep No More! It sounds incredible. I think your discussion of being an “observer” who was marked by a mask was very interesting. It also made me think about the role of agency in Sleep No More versus CYOA. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in Sleep No More isn’t it true that the actors have a set number of things they will do, no matter what? My impression is that the audience can’t actually affect the action “onstage.” In that way, I feel like it would be really different than the sense of agency you have in a CYOA novel by choosing which actions to take and having the other characters “respond” to that. However, I think you have a really good point that you won’t ever get to see the other stories (like the pregnant lady with the suitcase) unless you actually choose to follow them through.

    Sorry if that was rambling; I’m very interested in this question of agency!

    1. You are totally right about the agency thing.The actors do have a set number of thing they will and the audience can’t actually affect the action–Although, I think, sometimes the actors ask the audience members to do things in what is called a ‘One on One’, like they pull them aside and give them a locket or make do something or do something to them, and you can choose whether or not you want to or how you do it…I’m not 100% because usually its only the chosen audience member and the actor that experience it and I didn’t get a One on One :[ or see one (I did hear a girl squeal about one at the end of the show though). But yeah, there is more agency in a CYOAN. However, I would counter that in a CYOAN, while you get to choose the ending, it is a limited agency in that the story already has an end/designated path, you just chose which one you follow to the end. You should definitely go though-I’m not a particularly enthusiastic or fanatic type but Sleep No More is amazing- I actually beg you to go.

      1. I think it is interesting this question of agency. I want to add that I think the difference between this sort of live-action CYOAN and a CYOAN book is the type of agency you have. In the novel, you are a character in the world, intricately involved in the world around you, but you’re mostly just choosing an ending to your story. In the live-action you are an observer of the world, still a “character” of sorts, but primarily your role is in experiencing through watching their world. But in this way, you have more agency in choosing your journey, specifically because there is no multitude of endings. There is only one (the end of the story of Macbeth), but you may never experience that ending or experience it out of order as you choose the journey that may or may not take you there.

        Side note: For another class last year, I studied the theater group whose production this is, Punchdrunk, and I absolutely fell in love with them as a company. They do a lot of immersive theater. In fact, they did an immersive production for the marketing of Sony’s Resistance 3.

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