I can honestly say the readers of my site are pretty savvy. I know many of you have traveled all over the globe and seen some spectacular things in the world of themed entertainment. Which, for me, is a blessing and a curse. I love having a sophisticated audience that appreciates this art form and brings so much from experiences around the world to the table. However, it’s not easy to impress my readers, because many of you have already seen, done and read about everything there is to do. No matter what you have done in your personal quest for entertainment, there is absolutely nothing in the world that compares to the brilliance that is Sleep No More.
If you’re a fan of this site, you know I am in love with this new world of immersive theater with shows like Drip in Orlando or Live IN Theater in New York City’s Lower East side. Instead of a traditional theater where the audience watches the action on stage from a comfortable padded seat, immersive theater puts you in the action in a space that allows you to move around and interact with the actors.
If you’ve never heard of Sleep No More, there are several good reasons for that. The show takes place in Chelsea, New York City’s ritzy fashion district – far off the beaten path from Times Square and the Broadway theater district. In addition, they have spent next to zero dollars in advertising. Virtually everywhere you go in New York City, you will see ads for shows like Wicked: billboards, taxi cabs and subway stations. Sleep No More’s business is driven almost entirely by word of mouth. Which is astounding considering the show sells out nearly every night of the week.
Finding the place isn’t exactly easy. It’s located on 27th Street, just across the street from Scores strip club. The difference between Sleep No More and Scores? Scores at least has a sign. Sleep No More doesn’t even have a box office. You have to buy your tickets in advance online. Once you find the place, you will notice a small line out front with someone checking ID’s. To passersby, it looks like the line to a very exclusive club.
There is good reason for all this secrecy – Sleep No More isn’t just a show you stumble upon on a random Thursday evening; you seriously need to know what you are getting into. First and foremost, one needs to dress accordingly. This experience is fairly physical. Guests traverse a massive five-story building and there are very few places to sit down, so comfortable shoes are a must. In addition, heavy clothing will drive you nuts, as the way to move from floor-to-floor is by stairs and the building is kept fairly warm – so leave your jackets, bags and scarves with the coat check in the lobby.
Upon check-in, guests are given a playing card and a mask. Both are souvenirs audience members get to keep as a memento from the McKittrick Hotel, the fictional location where Sleep No More takes place. After picking up the goodies, guests are ushered into a lounge featuring antique chandeliers, a small jazz band and a small ornate bar that transports you back to the roaring 20’s. This is the only location in the building where guests are allowed to sit down and relax without having to wear a mask. Every few minutes, the emcee for the lounge makes an announcement saying guests holding certain playing cards can now enter the rest of the hotel.
Audience members are ushered into a small freight elevator where they are given rules and a little advice. During the entire experience, to give everyone anonymity, masks must be worn at all times. Texting or cell phone use of any kind is strictly prohibited, in addition to talking to anyone for any reason. This show is truly an individual experience. Regardless of how many people you came with, split up. Everyone explores the five floors differently and at their own pace and trust me, you will have so much more to share with your friends after it’s all over if you go in different directions. Lastly, if guests need assistance, there are people with black masks scattered throughout the hotel, they can guide anyone who may be feeling uncomfortable back to the lounge to relax.
Now, you’re probably wondering why anyone might feel uncomfortable. Without giving away too much detail, this show is definitely for adults only and at times can be downright bizarre. The masks play an ingenious role in the show, because it separates the guests from the actors: guests wear masks the entire time. Actors don’t. You are also almost guaranteed to see actors completely naked during your visit – male and female.
There is no map of the building, no directional signage and definitely no show times guide. You are free to explore every single room at your own pace. Sometimes there will be a performance in a room you happen to be in, sometimes not. One of my favorite aspects of Sleep No More is even if you never run across a single actor or performance (don’t worry, you will), just exploring the five floors that are completely unique and crammed with detail is satisfying enough.
The performance is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In this particular version, the story is told primarily through dance and movement, and next to no dialogue. This is a noir piece and the dimly lit hotel, in my opinion, is the main character of Sleep No More and the actors are just a tiny piece of the cog that bring the space to life. Unlike traditional theater where with no actors, there is no show. In this case, the space is so detailed it tells enough stories without ever needing live actors. It’s that impressive.
So what is there to see in the McKittrick Hotel? How bizarre are we talking here? Come back next time and I will give you the low down on how this show came about, why it’s so special and why it is a game changer in the world of themed entertainment and theater.
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