When I’m in New York, I see friends, and I see Sleep No More, preferably at the same time.
I think I’ve been around five times, but might be closer to ten. Punchdrunk’s other production, The Drowned Man, was in London about as long as I lived there, and I went six times.
Sleep No More is immersive theatre. You’re given a mask, and can follow characters and the story itself across the building, interacting as much as you wish. It’s loosely based on Macbeth, with some film noir elements. You might know it from an episode of Gossip Girl. It’s impossible to see it all, and every experience, for every individual, is unique.
When I went a few weeks ago, I was quite sleepy.
Entering the venue, I accepted that I would get a limited experience because of my limited energy. I would see less and do less and that would be okay. I forgave myself for my tiredness, for what I believed would be a slight waste of an evening.
I entered resigned, but left with a wonderful, valuable lesson.
Usually my Sleep No More strategy is to sit. I follow a character until they settle into a scene, then I find a spot to sit and watch the action unfold.
This time I took sitting to the next level. I was in no mood to wade the masses around the main characters or sprint through the stairwells.
So I partook in extreme sitting.
Rather than follow the story, I wandered the set in search of the comfiest seats, in the quietest, emptiest rooms.
I sprawled out on the lush furniture of the hotel lobby. I cosied up against the wall of cushions in Macbeth’s bedroom. I perched at someone’s desk, perusing the papers that lay there. I sat in far corners of rooms, watching the audience watch the most iconic moments.
My sitting reaped unexpected rewards: when I sat still long enough, the action came to me. And when it did, I had the best seat in the house.
I crawled all the way into the tent of pillows, listening in stillness to the rushes of feet in distant corridors. Minutes into my meditation, King Duncan arrived, and collapsed on the pillows in slumber. A crowd of masks peered in to watch him, watching me by extension. I knew what would happen next, and if you’re familiar with the story of Macbeth you might too: this is the part where Macbeth murders Duncan. Right in front of me.
I had seen this scene before, but never from within the tent itself. I marvelled at the timing. An old me would have positioned herself to catch this moment on purpose. This time, I had no idea where in the story we were. I just wanted a comfy spot to sit.
Sometimes in life we urge ourselves to be in constant motion, but often that motion involves shuffling through a crowd like sheep.
It’s counterintuitive, but if we rest instead, from time to time, adventure will come knocking at the door like a grey wizard.
My worst times at Sleep No More have happened when I tried to do too much. Times when I decided who I would follow in advance, anticipating where they would be at a certain time. When I’d – I’m ashamed to admit this – looked online to see who gives 1:1s. My worst times have been antsy ones, ones when I radiated impatience for more more more.
My advice for Sleep No More is not to plan.
(Unless you wear glasses – then plan to wear contacts because you will be masked).
Arrive as you are, and ask yourself – only then – what you need that evening.
Try that out, and after the show, consider taking that strategy home with you.
We could race after popular scenes. But by slowing down, and paying attention to what we want from the present moment, we receive a far more personal gift.
Wandering does not always require bounds of energy. The very nature of it suggests a meandering, non-linear path.
I’m done with rushing. I’m done with huddling in the crowd to see what everyone else is pushing and shoving to see. I’m done with over-cramming my day with detail.
I’m trying this new thing where I sit on ideas until they’re ready. I’m hanging out in empty rooms and knowing that this counts as living too.
I want to read more books, not for the impressive number of volumes but to read.
I find the activity of reading to be so pleasant and expansive. I’m trying out finishing fewer books, reading fewer pages, and indulging in the ones I do.
There is nothing more luxurious than sitting with a book: reading a sentence, pausing – taking a sip of coffee to drink in the words so much as the liquid – and carrying on to the next sentence only when the swirl of thoughts settle, ready to receive more. What’s the rush?
Sometimes I encounter a natural page turner.
Sometimes I’m excited to engage in the chase.
Sometimes my words dash across the page so fast I have trouble discerning what I’ve written.
Sometimes I have no idea where a sentence is going – I round each letter precisely, buying time as I consider each word.
I used to get upset with my handwriting for not being consistent as a computer font. Now I love the erratic waves of different personalities on my page.
A twist-o-whirl exists to thrill predictably. I prefer life as a well-designed roller coaster – up, down, and around.
The pauses and slow parts are as critical to the journey as the speedy tumbles. When I accelerate, it’s because I’m inspired. Not because I have anything to prove about how quickly I can zoom through life.
Sleep No More is a reminder that we all experience different versions of the same story. This includes the different moods we bring to the venue when we show up. The clue is in the title. Macbeth couldn’t sleep because he was a murderer. Maybe we should sleep more, and rush no more.
P.S. In my research for this essay, I gathered my ‘diaries of a mask’ recounting each trip to Temple Studios to see The Drowned Man. You can find my complete Punchdrunk writings here.