The Best Interactive Theatre Experience at Sleep No More in New York
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I love seeing shows, whether it’s something like Kabuki in Tokyo or a play close to home. On a recent trip to New York City, I saw an interactive show called Sleep No More that was unlike anything else I’ve experienced.
What is Sleep No More?
Before you think this is going to be something cheesy where you’ll get pulled up on stage to sing and dance it’s not. Sleep No More is entirely different and more complicated than that. Originally produced by Punchdrunk it ran in Boston in 2009/2010. Now Emursive runs Sleep No More in an old building called the McKittrick Hotel (not an actual hotel) in Manhattan. They decorated the entire building just for this show.
The show takes place in the evenings, and you book a start time, which starts at 6 pm and goes until midnight (depending on the night of the show). The entire experience takes 2 to 3 hours (or more if you decide to have a drink after the show). Yes, there’s a bar you visit before the show begins, so you need to be at least 21. The website does mention those 16 to 20 can be admitted when accompanied by a legal adult. I would contact them directly if this situation applies to you.
When You Arrive
When you get to the McKittrick Hotel, you’ll have to check your coat and any bags (including purses and umbrellas) inside the building. If the weather is decent, you may want to leave your jacket and bag back home/back at the hotel to save the $4 coat check fee. I’d advise wearing something with pockets to keep your cash, ID, and credit card on you. You’ll need to check your phone and camera if you bring those along as photos or videos during the show aren’t allowed.
After this point, you’ll get a playing card, and will be taken into a room that looks like a 1920’s speakeasy. There are bathrooms here, which you might want to make use of since you may not find the toilets in the show. You can sit down and order a drink, but soon a man will get on stage and announce everyone holding a specific playing card (say everyone with an ace) will need to go with him. You won’t be able to take your drink with you after you leave the speakeasy.
If you came here with a group of people, you might have different playing cards, but don’t try to switch cards to go with someone you know. They set it up so that you’ll be separated from other people in your group. Sleep No More is a very individualized experience. Going through the show by yourself adds to the fun and excitement.
About the Experience
After hearing a few instructions (some of which I mention below), you’ll eventually be taken somewhere in this strange/dimly lit/freaky/crazy/cool awesome show. At this point, whatever you want to do or check out is up to you. There are people called guards (wearing black masks) who will stop you from going to any rooms or floors that are off-limits. At the same time, you’re wandering around; there are different actors in the rooms performing scenes related to the overarching story of the show.
Sleep No More is like seeing a play (with interpretive-type dance performances), going on a scavenger hunt, and being in the setting of a David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock movie all at once. I won’t spoil anything about the show, but for anyone planning to go to Sleep No More or if you’re at all intrigued by this show and might be interested in going I’ll share a few spoiler-free tips to help you out.
Once you are taken out of the Speakeasy, there is no talking during the show. Even most of the performances by the actors will be done silently.
You’ll be walking and running from room to room (and up and down the stairs) a lot. Wear comfortable clothes and good shoes. Within the show, there are several chairs and couches you can sit down at if you need a break. Try not to sit too long cause you might miss some of the action.
You have to wear a mask during the show (see the photo below). While it sounds strange wearing a mask allows you to recognize the actors (because they aren’t wearing masks). It also lets you stay focused on the show and not the other people around you. If you wear glasses, you might want to wear contacts for this show. I wear glasses. Wearing the mask was a bit of a pain, but I managed. If you want you can keep your mask after the show.
You can’t take photos or use your phone during the show. Some of the rooms and the things I saw were pretty cool, but I was glad to be disconnected from technology for this experience. Disconnect from the internet/social media for a couple of hours to properly engage yourself in this experience.
The set, the props, and the costumes in this show are incredible. I got a bit obsessed with some of the details in the building. I would strongly recommend paying attention to the actors and what’s going on around you. Don’t just focus on the set.
Actors are found in various rooms performing different scenes. An actor might play something in one room and then they’ll move to another. You can choose to follow that actor, or you can go somewhere else. It’s all up to you. For the most part, the scenes will be performed as if you (or anyone else in the audience) is not there. There are times where an actor may interact with someone from the audience. It could be by whispering something in someone’s ear, or helping someone get dressed (that was part of my friend’s experience), or something else.
You won’t get a program before the show. There isn’t a map or guideline to know where to go for each scene or to give you a summary of what’s happening. You won’t see everything in Sleep No More because multiple things are happening in different locations. Our society has a FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) complex. It’s important to remember you’ll never be able to experience it all (not in Sleep No More or in life). Enjoy the experience you’re having, and don’t worry about anything else.
I didn’t have a phone or a watch with me, and there were several moments where I thought to myself, “I have no idea how long I’ve been here.” Being away from any device to tell me what time it was was a neat experience. I felt like Alice going down the rabbit hole. Losing track of time (for a couple of hours) was pretty freeing.
There are bathrooms in the show (not just in the speakeasy). I can’t remember what floor they are on, but you can tell they are the bathrooms because they look like working bathrooms, and they have a door that can close and lock. There is a room with a bunch of bathtubs. These are part of the show’s set and do not work. Do not attempt to take a bath here.
While there is often ominous music playing, and the building is dimly lit (adding to the atmosphere) Sleep No More is not a haunted house. No one (unless someone you know decides to be a jerk) will jump out at you and try to scare you. Now that I mention this, please do not use this as an excuse to be a jerk and scare people during this show. It’s freaky enough without someone immaturely pretending to be a ghost.
Sleep No More has adult themes. You could see scenes of nudity and (implied) violence.
My friends and I went to a 10:45 pm show on a Friday night, and it was quite busy. Some of the scenes (where a large group of the audience had gathered) were hard to see because it was busy. Going to a Sunday to Thursday night show may be less busy than the Friday/Saturday shows (although I can’t make any guarantees about that).
When the show is over, you’ll exit at the same speakeasy from the beginning. If you came in with other people, this is handy to know where you’ll be able to meet up with everyone after the show.
What I loved about Sleep No More is that it is such a unique experience – I’ve never seen any theatre production like it. No matter when you go, you’ll have a different experience than anyone else (including anyone you know). Even if you went back again, you’d likely see and experience something different than you had before. I don’t believe there’s a “wrong” way to see or experience this show. Apparently, I missed out on the big finale, but I still loved this show. Sleep No More is a unique and exciting performance to attend. If you live in or are visiting New York City, I recommend checking it out.
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Things To Know
Sleep No More takes place at the McKittrick Hotel at 530 West 27 Street, New York City. Ticket prices range from $80 to $170 (excluding fees and taxes). The show can sell out, so I recommend purchasing tickets in advance. This post was not sponsored or endorsed by Sleep No More or Emursive. I paid full price for my ticket and loved the show. It’s a unique experience that I’d gladly see again.
As mentioned the McKittrick Hotel isn’t an actual hotel (just the venue for the show). If you are looking for a hotel in New York City, you can book one here.
Have you been to an interactive show like Sleep No More?