Wednesday, January 25, 2012

tips on tips on Sleep No More

Last night I saw the theater performance dance piece Sleep No More, which was fantastic.  In brief, the audience is masked and wanders around 4 floors of an old hotel while actors act out Macbeth in dance and pantomime.  It's really cool.

Because it's so unusual, people who have seen it like to give advice to those who haven't.  My friends did, and you can find tons of SNM tips online.  Many tips are repeated over and over, forming a common wisdom, but some I feel were, for me, a little off the mark.  So I thought I'd offer my takes on some common tips.  This is based on a single viewing, and every person's experience varies, but this is what I thought.

But First: Tips on whether to search for tips

Because Sleep No More is so unusual you might be tempted to try and maximize what you get from the experience by gathering advice.  I did that, and it worked well for me, but my girlfriend says she thinks she would have preferred going with less knowledge and expectations.  I think the ideal way to approach Sleep No More would be to see it twice, once totally ignorant of what you are in store for, and a second time before which you could look up how to see all the most interesting things (you'd have to go several times to see everything of note).  Sadly, my budget does not allow for that.

Outside of a few basics, like knowing there are bathrooms on the fifth floor and that you need to wear comfortable clothes and shoes you can run in, you might consider whether you're the sort of person who would prefer to just explore without preconceptions, or the sort who really wants a very specific experience comprised of the "best" moments.  Act accordingly.

Tips on Common Wisdom Tips 

Read Macbeth, or at least a synopsis, before going: Everyone says to do this, but I don't know how useful it really is.  I've read and seen the play, and I read a synopsis before I went, and I still didn't know who most of the people were.  And even when I knew who people were, and what scene was being acted out, I didn't feel that knowledge added anything to the experience.  If you're trying to get to specific scenes it's useful to know who the characters are so you know who to follow, but that's about it.  Truthfully, I think an argument could be made for experiencing Sleep No More with no idea of what Macbeth is about.  Then you and your friends could all try and figure it out afterwards.

Look in every drawer, check every door: People say if you open all the drawers in all the bureaus and desks you can find neat stuff, and that if you open closed doors you'll find secret rooms.  But there is so much to look at and so many rooms to see that unless you've already gone a couple of times it's seems kind of silly to bother with.  I did not find any secret rooms; closed doors generally just lead to rooms I'd already gone into through an open door, and while it's cool that you can open a drawer and find faded baby pictures, the diaries and date planners and whatever I looked at never had anything interesting written in them.  Personally I would rather see the performances than search for tchotchkes.  Of course, if you want to find secret rooms, google around and I imagine you can find exactly where they are.

Wear contacts if you need glasses: Since you have to wear a mask the entire time, it makes sense to not wear glasses if you can avoid it, for the sake of comfort.  However, I feel people exaggerate the importance of this .  My number-one worry about seeing the play was the my glasses would be a big problem, and they really weren't; they were probably less of an issue than when I watch a 3D movie.  Of course, if you have those really big, square plastic frames it might be more of an issue, but for me it was really fine. So wear contacts if you can, but don't fret if that's not an option.

Go it alone: People generally say that if you're going with friends, don't try and stay together.  Split up and follow who you like.  This is reasonable advice; since you can't talk you can neither coordinate actions well nor share thoughts on the performance, but it's also fun with a partner.  If you want to go as a pair, my advice is, decide on one person to be in charge.  You have to respond quickly sometimes, and since you can't say things like "I hear a sound over there, let's check it out," or, "this is kind of boring, do you want to look around?" it's easier if you just have one person lead the other.  You could of course switch leadership roles at some point if you like, just make all decisions ahead of time. I saw half the play by myself then teamed up with my girlfriend for the second half, and I think that's the best of both worlds.

A Couple of  Tips of My Own

Finding events: At times you will find yourself wandering around aimlessly with no idea where any of the actors are.  In this case, I found it is usually helpful to move towards the music that is pumped through various speakers.  While some areas simply always have loud portentous music, hearing an old song or a sudden rise or change in the music somewhere is more often than not a sign that something is happening there.  My girlfriend suggested that these are musical cues to help the actors know where they should be, which seems likely, as they all need to be tightly coordinated with each other to make this work.  The other thing to do is look for people moving purposefully.  Often they are either the actors or people following the actors or people who have seen the play before and know where something is about to happen.

Don't worry about missing stuff: There's a lot of stuff to see, and if you get a lot of advice and schedule things just right you could tailor-make a tour of great moments the way people with a week in Europe tour all the famous places.  But that's not really how SNM is set up.  It's an experience; take what comes, explore, and don't get hung up on every little thing (although it can be worthwhile to know of a couple of the coolest scenes and how to find them).

Come early regardless of start time:  We had a start time ticket of 8 (note: if you want maximum exploration time, get the earliest possible ticket, as regardless of when you enter you can stay until 10), but we were let in something like 20 minutes before that.  

Hang out a while after:  There's a nice little nightclub where you wait before the play and return to at the end.  You can see very good live music there, so hang out.  They also have drinks, and while I don't really drink, I had a sip of the absinthe drink my girlfriend ordered and it was very tasty.

Comments on my personal experience

These are just a few thoughts based on what I saw.  These are very specific, so if you want to go without knowing specifics, don't read this.

Who to follow: I followed Macbeth for a good while, and he has a lot of cool scenes.  I also followed one of the witches for a while, which was worthwhile, although a scene where she moves the forest goes on a little too long.  Macbeth or any of the witches can be followed to lead you to the cool strobe-light orgy scene.  I didn't follow the pregnant woman, but I came across her in a couple of good scenes so she's probably a good one to follow.  My girlfriend followed Lady Macbeth for a while and said she was very entertaining.

Lady with a suitcase: At one point I saw some meeting between a man and a woman, and then the woman went into a room, sat at a table, unlocked and went into another room, got a suitcase, and wandered around some more.  I followed her far longer than I should have, as she's really boring in that part.  So if you see her my advice is go elsewhere.  I hope she gets to do something interesting at some point.

Card game: If you're in the pool room and people are playing cards, it will go on for a while but then there will be a very entertaining scene.  You'll know it's coming when you hear music cues and a scuffle outside (I considered running out to see what was going on, but by that time I was probably better off waiting where I was).

Lady Macbeth's bath: If you want to see Lady Macbeth naked you can (right after the banquet scene), but I didn't think it was a very interesting scene.  

Who's who

Macbeth is dressed in dark clothes and has blood on his face for a lot of the play, but other characters are harder to describe without just describing the actors, which is pointless since they're not always the same.  There's a scene in a banquet hall with people moving in slow motion that is useful to figure out who's who.  In that, Macbeth is all the way to the left, Lady Macbeth is all the way to the right, and I think the guy in the middle is the king.  Two of the witches, one male, one female, are on the right side of the table; If I remember correctly, Banquo's ghost sits between them.  The other witch is on the left side making out with two people at once.