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Sleep No More

Punchdrunk Theater Company's designer talks to us about creating an immersive and interactive set

by Cool Hunting Video in Culture on 09 July 2011

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An intensely detailed set, we took a minute to find out more about the challenges and excitement of Punchdrunk Theatre Company's Sleep No More's decor from the Associate Designer Livi Vaughan. Check out our video for an in-depth look at what it takes to create such an enigmatic ambiance and read on to learn more about the immersive theater's experience.

Wandering, disoriented and alone, no two people will ever experience Sleep No More in the same fashion. This choose-your-own-adventure sets audiences in a dark and stormy, detail-obsessed mash-up of film noir and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This is not a play you take a seat for. In fact, you might just find yourself running through a forest chasing after a blood-soaked witch. Defying category, this immersive experience blends ambiance, dance, and elements of a carnival fun house for three hours of interactive theater.

Sleep No More takes place in The McKittrick Hotel—three Chelsea warehouses, gutted and linked together in a labyrinthine manner. From its exterior, McKittrick wouldn't warrant a second glance. Once inside, the performance begins immediately as guests meander through a dark maze, finding their way into a gaudy cabaret, complete with a full bar and jazz band.

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Masked and regrouped, everyone's experience diverges from here. A bellhop lays out the rules and from then on, nothing can be taken at surface value. The McKittrick Hotel dictates your course, much the same way the Overlook Hotel lead to the unraveling of Jack Torrance in The Shining. Dull, throbbing mood music fills every room and floor, and each turn casts a unique sense of awe or mystery. Walls yield. One moment guests are in a grand ballroom, the next at the remains of a castle foundation. You can indulge in a candy shop, or admire the taxidermy. Everything can be touched. All the while, a loose adaptation of Macbeth, circa the 1930s, breezes around you.

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Unexpectedly, guests catch sight of a sole unmasked figure. It is an entry point, with the option to follow. Taking place, simultaneously throughout, the characters of Macbeth interact. You can follow one character through the entirety of the production, or stray and seek a point of reentry. The dialogue is minimal, but if chance or preparation allow, you can glimpse Lady Macbeth and her iconic, "out, out damn spot!"

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Physical, dance-driven performances illuminate character and plot points. Murder, betrayal and sex are all choreographed elements. Without much warning the performers disperse, leaving the guest to pick a direction and scramble among throngs of onlookers.

Playing off one another, the McKittrick and the actors vie for guest attention. Macbeth has been adapted over and over, but this site-specific production embodies a striking breed of theater where the guests themselves are an active component. All attendees, losing identity behind their masks, are ghosts populating the magical realism. With balletic grace, performances erupt and cease. Plot points may fall to the wayside, but the text is so familiar that it bears no influence. The space shifts and performs, leaving no moment unfilled. Therein lies Sleep No More's greatest ally—unbridled, consistent stimulation uniquely yours.

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