Sleep No More
I've seen something really different. I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the site being used for the production of Sleep No More, put on by the American Repertory Theater. Sleep No More is an inside-out version of Macbeth with a Hitchcock aesthetic. I'm sworn to secrecy on the details, but I'll try to give a taste of what to expect.
First of all, why did I have to tour a site? Isn't a play put on in a theater? Maybe so, but not this one. The site of the production is the Old Lincoln School in Brookline. And not the auditorium in the school. THE WHOLE SCHOOL. The entire building is transformed into a 50-room immersive landscape where the characters of Macbeth live their lives. The lines of the play aren't Shakespeare's text. Instead, there is an explosion of material to fill in gaps so that each character has something to do and say the whole time.
Audience members can come and go throughout the whole site as they wish. You can touch the sets and get close to the actors. You can explore as you wish, and I imagine that different people will have different strategies for experiencing the production. Although I've seen the location, I still don't know exactly what to expect. It's all very hush hush.
You can get an idea of what to expect by reading about the London production that was smaller and simpler in 2003. This production is put on by the same company, Punchdrunk, that specializes in these immersive theater experiences.
Here are some quotes from an interview with the director, Felix Barrett:
RH: What is the role of audience members in Punchdrunk’s work?
FB: Punchdrunk’s core belief is that the audience is the center of the action. In most theaters, you switch off your body and it’s just your brain watching. With Punchdrunk we flip this notion. We bring the body back to life. The audience can’t be passive. They have to go out there and find the action for themselves. The audience enters into the building in small groups. It’s up to them to decide where to go. No one tells them what to do. They have complete power to decide which journey they take, so each audience member has a different experience. And each audience member is also given a prop that makes them anonymous – they become ghosts, haunting the space and the story.
RH: If there were one thing you would want audiences to know about Punchdrunk or Sleep No More, what would it be?
FB: We’re asking audiences to come with a sense of adventure. The more curious you are, the more you’ll discover. There are many secrets hidden within the building. We need our audience to go hunting. You may arrive with a group of friends, but once everyone’s inside, it’s better to go hunting alone. How often do you have the chance to be a solitary audience member with one performer? It’s a magical moment. The more courageous you are, the more delights you will find.