As I stepped into the McKittrick Hotel, I was greeted by overwhelming darkness
...and instructions by a man's mysterious voice to check my belongings and proceed to the Manderley Bar. Upon receiving a 5 of hearts, I found myself led to a 1930's themed lounge. After spending several minutes nervously gazing about the table-filled red velvet lounge, a young gentleman appeared on the stage calling out the card numbers. I excitedly rose from my seat. Ushered into a small dark room, I locked eyes with an alluring and handsome actor who did not break eye contact with me until I disappeared behind the door.
Here, we were all handed identical white renaissance-styled masks. My group of faceless wanderers was led into a small elevator, where I felt a rush of excitement and curiosity. The actor escorting us opened the elevator door, allowing some people to venture out, but then abruptly blocked the way. With a mischievous smile he said, “You may be separated from your loved ones, but don’t worry, you found them once, I’m sure you can find them again. Anyhow, this is something one should experience alone; you choose your own journey."
My friend had gone to Sleep No More for her 18th birthday and among the creepily endearing things she told me was, “If you see a woman in the forest, follow her, and she’ll take you inside a hut and spoon you tea!”. This was the only impression I had when I found out I was going to see, or rather, experience, this exhibitionist and interactive interpretation of Macbeth.
As I exited the elevator, I found myself in an extravagantly furnished hallway that extended in every possible direction. In the distance, I could see one of the rooms had a cradle with doll-heads hanging over it; I chose to walk the other way. Confused and intrigued, I wandered into a child’s room. There were dresses on hangers and books on the shelves. I opened a drawer and found a doll with a needle embedded in her stomach and a tiny wooden cross bound together with red string. As I opened the other drawers I was amazed to find that each one was filled with trinkets. As I looked up at the bed I noticed a large mirror on the opposite side. When I got closer, I realized it was a window into another room. It looked as if it had been ravaged: there were ripped pages scattered all over the floor, the bed was unmade, and broken toys dispersed throughout. [I couldn't help but think of when Macbeth ordered the brutal murders of Lady Macduff and all her children.]
Venturing away from the disturbed house, I passed through a dark graveyard, and reached a large room with a luxurious bed and a bathtub elevated in its center. The bathtub was filled with bloody water and at its foot was a slew of soaked papers. The writing was legible enough to make out that it was from Macbeth to Lady Macbeth, and he was writing of the witches’ prophecy that he would become Thane of Cawdor. [Finally, the essence of Macbeth in this strange horror house was becoming clearer, and I became anxious to see more.]
Before I could move on, I was interrupted by a screaming woman in a sequined dress barging into the room in a panic. She was wringing her hands in absolute horror as a woman dressed as a nurse followed her. They ran through the room and I hurried after them. They were the first actors I had come across. After bounding up flights of stairs, passing through a taxidermy shop and what seemed to be a seclusion cell, we reached a room filled with bloody bathtubs. [The screaming woman had to be Lady Macbeth and she was desperately trying to wash the blood off of her hands.] With the help of the nurse she stripped down, revealing her body to the crowd of faceless observers before stepping into a bathtub.
This was nothing like a show.
I felt as if I was really there, watching Lady Macbeth bathe herself because the actors did not regard the concept of an audience. The dedication with which they carried out their actions allowed for a high level of intimacy between the actor and the viewer. The emotions that the experience was able to evoke from me were so powerful because the line between fantasy and reality was so narrow.
Surrounded by an ocean of identical white masks, the idea of being hidden becomes completely literal. Covered by the mask, I felt as if I could do anything I wanted., leaving me free to become completely immersed in the tantalizing experience. Wandering through the labyrinth of intricate locations with complete anonymity was invigorating and I felt liberated in a way that I never had before. I found myself standing just inches away from the faces of the actors as they interacted with each other because I had no shame; I was not myself. I was nothing more than a white mask. I was part of the scenery. We were all actors in this twisted world where no one was visible except for the characters. We were all blank slates drifting among each other, allowing everyone to have a raw experience.
As I ventured through blue-lit forests and an apothecary filled with dried plants and flowers, I found myself experiencing what was something of a fulfillment of a magical fantasy. As I encountered more new characters and walked in on hectic scenes, I found myself bewildered and befuddled. The encounters with the actors were sporadic and discontinuous since they occurred at different times in different places leaving the story line chaotic and disjointed.
I found that I really had no idea what was going on most of the time, but that was one of the most rewarding parts of the experience.
Deprived of the assistance of words, and taking in only actions, my imagination was reeling. For everything that I saw and touched, for every actor who I watched, I created my own inner dialogue. I created my own story based on what minimal understanding I had from the thrashing and screaming of the distressed pregnant woman or the bloodied concierge who stood anxiously by the telephone, tears streaming down his face.
I can honestly say that Sleep No More was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life and I now see storytelling in a new light. Nothing is as comparably satisfying as being fully transported into a fictional world and experiencing it first-hand.
Among the highlights of the incredible night was a personal interaction I had with an actor, whose role in Macbeth I am still not quite able to identify. Upon beginning the journey, I had heard that much of the thrill of interactive theater was making sure you put yourself in the presence of the actors so that they felt invited to engage you. Heeding this advice, I made sure to stay particularly close to two young men who were having a heated conflict in the lobby of a hotel. The two men had performed an aggressive dance, flinging each other over the concierge desk and working themselves up to the point of tears. As they simmered down, gazing at each other with despair, one of them dispassionately raised his hand towards mine, and without even looking at me, gently led me to a chair. After seating me, he climbed upon a stage and began to speak into a microphone. To my complete shock, a woman’s voice emerged and before I could understand what was happening, he was singing Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” right to me. I sat there shocked, unable to make any sense of what was happening but completely moved by the serenade emerging from a man who was progressively becoming more and more distraught until he was hysterically crying by the end of the song.