Sleep No More & The Drowned Man: Diary of a Mask

Chapter, Fashionably Light

Oct 28 2013

Gold Tape

Forward: Punchdrunk

I have compiled all of my writings on Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man and Sleep No More. Except my master’s dissertation on immersive theatre, because frankly, these are better. Enjoy.


1 – Essay: Postcard From → Punchdrunk

2 – Essay: You Simply Must See The Drowned Man

3 – Diary: Third visit

4 – Diary: my fourth drowned man saga

5 – Diary: drowned man the fifth

6 – Diary: that’s a wrap


Postcard From → Punchdrunk

7 October, 2013

Postcard From → PunchDrunk

^ presents and makeup by PunchDrunk

There’s this thing called PunchDrunk. I don’t want to give anything away. Let’s just say they’re an immersive theatre company. Some call it promenade, some call it choose-your-own-adventure, some call it a reason to live. First Sleep No More, then The Drowned Man. We visitors, masked, silent, and alone, follow the characters, explore corridors, and peruse desk drawers. Sometimes we are pulled behind a locked door and unmasked. Eventually I learned how to be picked: keep eye contact – but give the characters space – and be your own character in their world. Walk how the music makes you want to walk. Sit down in the middle of scenes. Lean against the set like you belong. And take that mindset with you when you leave the studios; it applies to your daytime too.


You Simply Must See The Drowned Man

28 October, 2013

As soon as I returned home from my first Drowned Man I booked tickets for my second.

I’m now planning my sixth.

This is my third feature of this one production in the past two weeks.

But I want to be very, very clear.

Londoners: You Simply Must see this show.

You Simply Must: See The Drowned Man

[non-Londoners: Here’s your excuse for a visit.].

Especially right now, with tickets available only through December. Now is the time to grab them. The show might extend to March. It might not.

I tell you this as a student, critic, and lover of the stage. Of the 53 plays I saw in 2012, one stood out – it stuck in my mind, haunted my dreams, and placed magic firmly in my consciousness. That play was Sleep No MoreThe Drowned Man is by the same creative team – Punchdrunk – but it’s bigger. It’s newer. And it has an expiration date.

So what IS this Drowned Man thing?

I can’t tell you. Not exactly.

The beauty of Punchdrunk is its novelty. It heightens your sense of presence. You enter the space masked, alone, and without direction. There are floors and floors of rooms, several characters, all there to explore. You choose.

Genre-wise, it is immersive theater. A promenade performance. But ‘genres’ and ‘categories’ can’t explain The Drowned Man. You have to see for yourself.

The story is influenced by Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and the music of The Shangri-Las, to name a few. After one show you will be confused. Undoubtedly. But you will have lived so many stories at once, and added your own to the constant compilation. The show is different every time, and it is impossible to see the whole thing.

A director once told me that he considered a play to be successful if the audience left in a chatter of discussion about it. Fast-forward past the few minutes of exiting the Studios, past the Tube ride home, and the sleepless night of trying to piece it together. Today, months later, I am still completely consumed.

Fact: My closest London friend group is a cast of fictional characters.

I don’t have a core community in London. I am new to the city, and while I have met fantastic people, it has been sporadically – the occasional lunch or wander, usually with just one friend. Temple Studios is where I feel at home here. With nothing but silent gazes, I have befriended the characters of The Drowned Man. This is especially poignant for me, in my current situation of mostly-solitude, but ‘it’s not just me’. I know people who are returning for their tenth, twentieth visits. This intense connection, this deeper community, is ultimately why.

But because of the show, I have become part of a non-fictional community as well, through a constantly-updated Facebook group of fans just as invested as I am. While I make fictional friends silently, through physical presence alone, these non-fictional friends I know solely through text, their physical beings hidden, as if by virtual Drowned Man mask. Finally, a few days ago, I met many of these Masks in person. Our meeting was refreshingly focused on this magical world we had all entered. Like the experience of The Drowned Man itself, routines of normality were abandoned. The usual tropes of introductions and small talk were replaced by pure passion – for a few hours we were immersed in that small, non-stop section of brain, which pervades daily life, even though we usually have to set it aside.

The Drowned Man is the ultimate stimulant for creativity.

By pushing theatrical boundaries, The Drowned Man makes you push your own.

By confusing you, it evokes your inner philosopher and detective, and in my case, writer.

My instinct upon returning from a night at The Studios is to write down the whirl of experiences, and deduce meaning from them. I work at understanding the story presented to me, but I also work on my own story – how the series of events I felt affected me.

There is only so much I can say here, so I have even re-awoken my Tumblr as a space for more specific ramblings. I’ve subtitled it ‘diaries of a mask’, inspired by the white masks each audience member wears to a Punchdrunk performance, but referring also to the silent and anonymous role I play in every theatrical event I attend.

This performance transcends the usual adjectives I apply to thumbs-up theatre. It has helped me to realise what I value and wish to pursue in life. Theatre, for one, but also magic, intuition, and presence. Meaningful connections, with reality and fantasy.

Enough words. See some visuals:


Third visit.

25 September, 2013

On Facebook, I posted:

Third visit. Four 1:1s. Finally caught the Dust Witch. Wow.

Mario commented:

We want more details!!

So I replied:

Okay then :) First I was marked by the Seamstress. With official Drowned Man eyes behind my mask I stalked Stanford until he ran me down the corridor, locked us up and said I know who you are and what you want. A spiel, and headshot photos.

Up to Dust Witch for my usual stalking. Had at least a 3-minute stare-off with her while everyone else was watching Miguel do his paint-in-the-sand dance. Eventually she (Jane Leaney) took me in for a 1:1 story (I did like how she casually took my hand as we kept walking rather than the usual pause, stare, offer, accept).

After this, my Drowned Man dream complete, I decided to sit and watch, so I meandered down to the western bar area, where a big dance scene was going on. Sat at a table in the front and enjoyed being part of the crowd. The audience dispersed with the main actors; I had no energy to follow, so I moved up to a barstool and hung out with the bartender.

He was pouring a shot for someone and I watched. Then he turned to me with a yeah-alright expression and poured me one too. After a while I wandered into the trailer area, where a naked Dwayne (Nicola Migliorati) was rushing in to dress. Several people crowded him to watch, I leaned against the outside of the trailer [respectfully.].

When he emerged and looked around, he took my hand and we raced down to the finale. He dropped me off [at my usual finale-watching spot, actually] and said Be right back. Sure enough when lights came up after the finale he returned for me and we went up to the bar. Would you like a dance? He asked after removing my mask, and led me to a back area of the bar for a dance before saying goodbye. Theeee end!


my fourth drowned man saga

18 October, 2013

Last night [5pm] was supposed to be my last at the Studios, but the universe said no to that.

The first Drowned Man scene I ever saw, months ago, was Romola’s death. Mesmerized that night, I lost her after she took a mask into a trailer with a locked door, and have never quite found her since. Last night I planned to follow her.

I couldn’t find Ms Romola, so I searched for the Fool. Instead, I found Alice, and switched tactics. It was Jane Leaney, my Dust Witch, who finally paid me attention after two unsuccessful shows of more Dust Witch-stalking [a different actress] than can really be justified with so much else going on.

My strategy for enjoying Temple Studios rounds is to live as a character in the space. I would dress the part, but my only dress with pockets is neon green, so I wear that with my sturdy Docs and pretend to be period. I sit down as much as possible, touch things, and lean against the set. It is home for those hours.

So for my first loop I became Alice Estee’s intern. In my new role as aspiring film producer I shadowed Ms Alice, swaying up the stairs a few steps behind her. She gave me advice like a good mentor: A tidy desk is a tidy mind. Noted, ma’am! She took my hand and led me to the stabbing, the first time I had seen it so early on. She left me, framed the shot in her hands and retrieved the scissors. That’s how it’s done, baby.

I kept following her. After Frankie’s initiation, two of us went into her dressing room. “Out, please, madam,” she said to the other mask. I zipped up her dress, and she told me a story about a horse. Foreshadowing. She let me out, I gazed her goodbye, and poked around the surrounding rooms before heading to the stairwell.

Perfectly timed. As I headed upstairs, the Fool (Omar) was rushing down, posse of masks in tow. Internship complete, I was now the Fool’s little friend. Enter skipping and peering, exit swagger. We rushed down the hall, the Fool paused to consult a map, then handed it to me. We were off to the sound room, a scene with Lila I had witnessed in my first TDM. That time I watched his drowning up close, getting splashed with water. This time I waited by the door. When we left, I stuck close by. I had seen the Fool take someone to watch the orgy at least once per visit, and this time, finally, he chose me. He also took me on a trip to the basement, my first ever glimpse and understanding of the Horses. Goodbye, Fool.

I stopped by the diner to pay a visit to the Drugstore Girl, a close friend from around town. We gossiped with just our eyes, and shared a drink before I left, alas, not on roller skates. I then went grocery shopping, curling up in the window sill, climbing the stairs of the foot ladder to get a better view, sitting on the desk and reading Eugene’s script over his shoulder . When it was 1:1 time, however, another shopper was braver – perhaps it was one of you?  – the mask carefully selected a can of peas from the centre of the stack and dusted obsessively with one of the cloths. Fine, you earned it, Mr Mask.

To the stairwell. I caught Romola on her way down, finally, and followed her to her dance with Stanford, to her scene, to costume and makeup. My final role: Romola’s BFF. I feared for her when her face was painted with blood, and stood shocked at the front of the mask pack when the doctor confronted her. Our worried eyes met and she took my hand – it’s just makeup. I nodded. Of course it’s just makeup. Please, she handed me a tissue and I consoled her, cleaned it off for her. Just makeup. Relieved, we headed downstairs for the finale together. She wrapped her arms around me at our front row view, and after that’s-a-wrap burst into cheers. Party’s that way! We danced over together. She left me on the steps, squeezed my arms, one last smile: I’ll see you later, okay?

Last night I came for closure with Romola, whose death was my Drowned Man initiation. But Romola lived.

I watched them dance, but she didn’t come back to retrieve me in the end. Later is yet to come.


drowned man the fifth

25 October, 2013

After Romola invited me back for another Drowned Man, I returned to Temple Studios on Friday the 25th. It was the Spoilers Facebook group meetup date, so I finally got to put [animate] faces to names. We pored over maps and talked loops and 1:1s before donning our matching red wool bracelets and masks and entering the Studios.

According to a poll I conducted on Facebook, the most popular TDM character is Stanford, with the PA in second. I had never even seen the PA, so I decided to follow her. I knew she started in the basement somewhere, so headed down dark corridors alone. She was in her office, donning her signature leopard print dress. I definitely hadn’t seen her before.

The PA was applying lipstick with a compact mirror. I made intense eye contact with her reflected, perfectly made-up eye, and she turned to stare me down. Still just us two. She made a drink, sealed the lid and turned to face me again, grabbed me by the neck, and kissed my cheek. We were on the go. Never had I latched onto my target character so early.

While i followed this swanky lady, I wracked my brains for my own character. When I followed Alice last week I became her intern, but what could I possibly be – the assistant’s assistant? No, not really. Eventually, perhaps inspired by the leopard print, I decided upon Dolores’s cat. Poor me, cat to The Dolores Grey, neglected by her famous owner, fed and cared for by the assistant. I curled up in chairs, kneeled on the floor, and stared the Assistant down with kitten eyes. The perk of following the PA this night is that Jane Leaney, my favourite Drowned Man actress, whom I had followed when she played the Dust Witch and Alice, was Dolores. Another exquisite performance, even if I, the cat, was a bit jealous of her preferred interest in Marshall over me.

At one point Dolores becomes angry with the PA for invading her privacy, so I decided to side with Dolores and stand by her while the PA was shooed out of the room. It was the first time I had ever seen Dolores’s bedroom, and only the second I had seen the snowscaped basement.

I received her 2:1, a surprise of a TDM experience like none other, but missed her 1:1 because apparently it happened during the window in which kitty ran home to Dolores. I picked up the end of the loop though, and cycled all the way back to her office, which now, full of Masks, was less eerie as she selected another target with her reflected eye.

Time to go. I wandered, and found a tall man I had never seen before, so of course I would follow him. Ah. Tuttle. The metamorphic choice was obvious – I became a child of the town, curiously peering over Tuttle’s desk as he drew the Red Moon Hotel sign, running alongside him as he graffitied and hid. Mario was following Mr Tuttle too, and took the 1:1. I looked into the shop window to give him a congratulatory stare, and he waved apologetically. It’s okay!

I headed to the Grocer’s, still the wandering child, and just as I curled up in the window he whipped around and stared at me with wide eyes. He moved to the back door of his shop, turned around, and beckoned me over, past the crowd of onlookers in between us. Oh how special! “There once was a little boy…” His 1:1 was enchanting, and I was playing the perfect part for it.

My next incarnation was to live a version of the Grocer’s tale. The child grew up and became a film star wannabe. I followed Stanford into Andrea’s audition. I made eye contact with Claude, but he chose someone else for a dance. So I flitted from story to story, the Hollywood reject, desperate for something that wasn’t coming. I gave up the Hollywood dream and turned to magic instead. To the Dust Witch’s cabin, where I arrived just in time to see her press a scroll into a Mask’s hand and lead her into a 1:1. I had never seen the scroll before. News: I have not seen the Dust Witch’s entire loop. Back in the town square I glimpsed Hannah, Queen of the Queue. She reached for my arm to say hello. The coveted 1:1!

I was still searching for a loop to follow when I noticed a Mask removing Romola’s makeup by the finale stage. Oh. The show is ending. I ran back upstairs to watch the other murder – I had seen the stabbing so many times already – hoping at least for another Dust Witch glimpse, but she did not appear. I watched the finale by these steps alone, and headed to the bar alone. At least the Opium Room awaited, full of live recaps and huddling over maps. For the first time at Temple Studios, real life trumped the imaginary. And that’s okay.


that’s a wrap

4 December, 2013

Friday’s Drowned Man was supposed to be my last for logistical reasons, since I’m moving back to Sleep No More’s birthplace. But by the end of the night, my loops had come to a conclusive close.

I had no agenda, but was excited to see Omar and Fania on the cast list, a first for my TDMs. More than any other show, I wandered impatiently, following a character for a scene, then leaving to pursue another. It was a crowded night, and I knew there must be some characters lost in the mix. Someone, anyone, I could follow and actually see without getting trampled.

Finally, I ended up following Miguel. I saw his chase scene for the first time, despite having followed most of his loop on my first TDM [and washing off his paint in my second. We go way back.]. When he disappeared in the phone booth, I didn’t know where to wait for him, so off I wandered again. We met up again near the end of the third loop, and I followed him into the room where he finds Mary’s clothes. I got to kneel next to him in the sand, and he had me hold the pile of clothes. This actor [?] was very inclusive of different masks, spreading out the interactions amongst the whole room. Very kind. He pulled out a bottle [of rum, perhaps?] and offered it to the mask on his other side, who declined. He offered it to the one next to her who also declined. He made eye contact with me before handing me the bottle, but Douche in a Velvet Suit and Bow Tie [who had nudged his way past me for the Tuttle 1:1 earlier…] snatched the bottle before I could. Miguel continued to hold his gaze with mine though, as if in apology. What a sweetie.

He placed a picture of Mary on top of the clothes, and suddenly I was burying the actress who had played Faye, whom I had followed in my first loop of TDM. Goodbye.

Miguel ran me down to the finale and held me through the murder. I have been led to the finale a few times before, and usually get dropped off in the front of the pack on the steps. This time, though, he placed me on one of the platforms in the back by the trailer. For the first time I witnessed the entire stage of the finale, and the entire room of masks watching. I wondered whether I should move to the front, but decided that I should follow Miguel’s plan for me. I lingered on the platform at the end, as the room emptied, and the actors dispersed. Goodbye.

I never saw Romola’s full loop or experienced either of her 1:1s. I never saw an orange. I still don’t know what is in the scroll the Dust Witch gives to a mask before one of her 1:1s. I don’t know the story behind the Tuttle blood that my friends show me on their clothes in the bar afterwards. It looks like I never will. But I did see Omar and Fania, I did get my 1:1s with the Dust Witch (Jane Leaney, no less) and the Grocer, I did get stared down by Sam Booth a lot, I did get a dance with Nico. I think that’s enough.

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