In 2011, I started hearing friends talk about this then-new show in New York. The interesting thing was that none of them could really describe it. The show was “Sleep No More.” All people could tell us was that we needed to see it and then we’d be able to talk about it.
I’ve since seen the show a few times and have even written a post that goes into the details about the show and what to expect when you visit. The basics of the experience haven’t changed much since then.
Due to the pandemic, Sleep No More shut down in March 2020. Even more than other shows, what set the show apart presented unique challenges to reopen safely. For starters, the audience is walking or running around, standing close to one another and the actors. Even the opening of the show, in which you’re taken to the show in an elevator, presented Covid-related problems.
While Broadway theaters only required masks, vaccinations and testing to reopen, Sleep No More needed to rethink almost everything from the venue to the show and even the plastic masks worn by the audience form the first day the show opened (among other things, it’s a way to recognize audience from employees and actors), as seen below.
Previously, the masks had an extended nose, reminiscent of those worn by medieval plague doctors. These masks aren’t conducive to wearing a KN95 mask (and the look of a plague doctor just after a pandemic is a bit insensitive).
The show has redesigned the plastic masks, removing the nose and making them compatible with wearing a facemask (which is currently mandatory and provided for all guests.)
The extended closure allowed the production crew to look at every one of the 100 rooms which make up the experience. Besides updating the ventilation system, every inch of the space was “touched in one way or another” according to an interview with one of the producers. This would never have been possible if not for the mandatory shutdown.
I was curious to see if the show felt any different after the changes. Would the audience be allowed to get as close to the action as before? How would people behave being in an enclosed environment? After living through the last 2 years, would the creepy vibe of Sleep No More still be appealing, or would it hit too close to a raw nerve? Finally, after seeing it several times over the past 10 years, would I still find the show interesting?
First off, Sleep No More is as creepy, beautiful, strange, entrancing, non-linear, and wonderful as ever. Upon arrival, our vaccine cards were checked and we were provided with KN95 masks. When entering the building, you still need to check your bags and coats but they now also lock your cell phone in a bag which can only be opened by the staff in the Manderley Bar.
We did something we’d never done before for this visit and picked the first entry time. This would maximize our time in the experience, as the show repeats 2 & 1/2 times from beginning to end. We took the first elevator of the night and even though I wasn’t trying, I was in the right spot to be let off on the 5th floor. The rest of the passengers were dropped off the floor before.
This area has always creeped me out, but it was beyond unnerving to walk around with it totally empty. When I saw a character walking around, I followed him for a minute when he turned to me and motioned for me to stay put. That’s when he led me into a room for a one-on-one. I’d never experienced this one before, so I can’t say how it’s changed, but it’s still a close interaction. I love getting these extraordinary experiences but they do throw me off my game plan as I wander aimlessly for a few minutes afterward.
The show didn’t seem to be much different than I remembered. I’ve already seen much of the main story arc on my previous visits, so I often take a counter-approach to my visit. When a scene ends and someone runs off, most people follow. I stayed behind, particularly if one character was still there. Sometimes it pays off and you see something cool, and sometimes nothing happens.
I saw many new scenes by just wandering around. Part of the uniqueness of going to Sleep No More is if you’re not liking what you’re watching, you can leave and look for something else. There’s always something else.
For the most part, the crowd was well behaved and kept an appropriate distance from the actors. Of course, there will be some people who want to push their way to the front and be in the scene. I’ve learned to ignore them over my visits since everyone is encouraged to experience the show however they choose (with an added request to give the residents their space.)
In fairness, Sharon didn’t enjoy the show as much as she had on our most recent visits. The temperature (which seemed to be a tad warm) and running around for 2 hours while wearing the show’s plastic mask along with a KN95 mask was uncomfortable for her. She also doesn’t have the option to move to the back and watch if things feel too crowded, because at 4’6″, she too short to see over anyone else. So while I can ignore the pushy ones who want to get to the front, for her, it’s a battle for if she’s going to be able to see the scene or not.
After about 90 minutes, she called it a night and headed to the Manderley Bar to wait for me. When we met after the show, I found out that one of the cast also picked her for a one-on-one, which disproves the theory that the cast picks those who seem to want it the most.
With the subtle and not-so-subtle changes to the show, the things about Sleep No More that make it so interesting are still there. It’s a show to be experienced, not just seen. Some people will love it and some will not. I’ve just never met anyone who didn’t have anything to say about it afterward.
Performances are on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 PM, Fridays at 7:30 PM, and Saturdays at 3 PM and 8 PM. Tickets are priced from $99.50.
Cover Photo Credit: Yaniv Schulman for The McKittrick Hotel
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