It never used to be this way. I used to be able to go to the theater and stay quiet and focused when the audience lights dimmed and the stage lights came up. I used to be able to lose myself in plays. In characters. In stories.
It’s not like that anymore.
Now, I have to be prepared. I have to have pen and paper at hand, and its best (my husband will tell you) if I’m in an aisle seat. Because now, when the lights go down and come up (in that order), that’s when the ideas come. It happens at strange times: an hour into Richard III. Thirty minutes into Alan Rickman’s John Gabriel Borkman performance (we left at intermission at that one — Eric hated the play and I hated scribbling in the dark). I almost made it through Diary of a Madman; the itch didn’t start until fifteen minutes or so from the end of the second act. But then it started. And once the idea comes…you have to write it down, for fear of losing it.
So, suffice to say, the theater and I have a strange, love-hate relationship these days. I love what it does to the creative side of my brain, but I hate the fact that I never seem to be able to sit through an entire performance.
But then we went to see Sleep No More. And I was so fascinated that I didn’t write one thing down during the entire three and a half hour performance. This theatrical experience is virtually impossible to explain, but I’m going to give it a try: A British dance/performance theater troupe called Punchdrunk rented an old building on Manhattan’s westside and turned six floors of what was once a real hotel into a fake one called “The McKittrick.”
The audience “checks-in” at an appointed time sometime between 7 and 8pm, is handed a creepy carnival mask, and set loose on six floors of sets–more than 100 different rooms. You explore the space at your own pace, wandering from room to room as a play happens around you in real time, actors coming in and out of your reality. You can follow them…or not. You can rifle through drawers, eat candy, pet taxidermed animals, lie in a hospital bed. If you wait long enough and you’re very lucky, they’ll invite you into a secret room or two. Oh, and it should be mentioned that you can see them do a fair amount of killing. Because the play they’re in…the play you’re in…is Macbeth.
What’s amazing is this–every person who attends Sleep No More has a different experience. You are deliberately separated from your friends; the masks are designed to make you anonymous, and if you’re not in the right room, you’ll miss part of the action. Not that you’ll feel you missed it. For example, While Eric watched Macbeth kill Duncan in one room, I was rifling through a dresser in a different room, unaware…until the bloody Scot marched right past me and took a bath, washing the blood from him.
It’s like no experience I’ve ever had before…and it was so compelling and utterly engrossing that we came home and immediately bought tickets to go again. There was too much we hadn’t seen. We’re not alone. My friend (the fabulous Erin Morgenstern) has been nine times!)
And the best thing about it? I didn’t stop once to write. And that’s saying something. But now, of course, I have a different problem. In that, I want every theatrical experience to be this all-consuming. And there are only so many old buildings to be converted.
I think I did a terrible job of describing…check out this slideshow with audio from the New York Times on the show. Look at these amazing sets!!
Have you ever been to a theatrical performance (or a movie) that completely transported you? Tell us about it!