This past weekend I went to see Sleep No More. The show, which takes place in New York’s “McKittrick Hotel” is an immersive theater experience. The audience, wearing masks, explores a hundred rooms spread over seven floors — you open drawers, examine props, follow actors around, and generally try to figure out what’s going on. I left not really understanding what had happened (the show is based on Macbeth) because it’s pretty difficult to be present at all the key scenes. But it was a fascinating and beautifully designed work — with detailed set designs, fantastic atmospheric sound track, and a creepy spooky sexy vibe.
It reminded me a lot of self-explore video games. (I’m especially thinking early games like Myst or Gadget, although there are countless others). These are experiences where there is a story, but it’s the players task to discover it and piece things together. For me, these are games that are atmospherically rewarding, but I lack the patience to uncover the stories. And I think Sleep No More is like that for me — I’d love to go back for the experience, but not sure I’ll get the full story.
Years ago I saw Tamara, which had a similar, if not so richly complex, structure. And then just a couple weeks ago saw the revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood which has a moment of audience interactivity, where we vote for who the murder is.
The show was created by Punchdrunk, a British theater company that specializes in site-specific and immersive experiences. And earlier this year they were exploring how technology can enrich the physical. Punchdrunk teamed with the MIT Media Lab’s Opera of the Future group on making the show more interactive as well as bring in an online audience. There are articles in the NYTimes and Gizmodo about how the technology works.
This interview with Punchdrunk’s artistic director Felix Barrett is an interesting read of how they believe our culture is too passive – and so they experiment with how far they can push the audience without it becoming too uncomfortable. And using interactivity is a great way to give the audience a way to control that. He also talks about a new larger-scale project in which they create an interactive travel agency where the audience goes to and explores an entire city.
There are tons of fan websites. There are fans that have gone dozens, if not hundreds, of times, and are super-aware of every detail, every change that’s made, and which actors are performing the roles (it seems that the actors may switch roles from show to show). There’s an unofficial guide to what’s on each floor. There’s even a point system if you want to quantify your visit.
Definitely worth a visit.