‘Sleep No More’ to Close in January
This post was originally published on NY Times - Theater
Written by: Alexis Soloski
The Off Broadway production opened at the McKittrick Hotel in 2011, and helped to alter and expand the landscape of immersive theater.
After more than a decade of performances, “Sleep No More” — the immersive, Hitchcockian riff on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” — will close the doors of its cargo elevator for good when it plays its final performance on Jan. 28.
Rising production costs drove the decision to close, said Jonathan Hochwald, a producer, who also cited an unwillingness to raise ticket prices commensurately. “It’s an enormous undertaking with hundreds of employees,” he said.
Created by the English theater company Punchdrunk, “Sleep No More” had a short run in London in 2003 and a longer one in Brookline, Mass., in 2009, in partnership with the American Repertory Theater. The success of that outing encouraged the newly formed commercial production company Emursive to bring it to New York. Emursive found an ideal space: adjoining warehouses in Chelsea that had previously housed nightclubs such as Twilo, Home and Bed. Its 100,000 square feet were reimagined as the McKittrick Hotel. “Sleep No More” began performances there in March 2011, pausing for the pandemic, then reopening two years later, its sold-out performances driven by word of mouth.
Reviewing the show in 2011 for The New York Times, Ben Brantley described it as a “movable orgy” and “a voyeur’s delight, with all the creepy, shameful pleasures that entails.”
“None of us ever imagined we’d be here talking about the show in 2023 — it was only on sale for six weeks at first,” Felix Barrett, artistic director of Punchdrunk and a co-creator of “Sleep No More,” said on Wednesday. “Above all it was the audiences in New York who embraced our show and made it such a success.”
Though it is hardly New York’s longest-running immersive theater event (that honor most likely belongs to “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding”), “Sleep No More” helped to alter and expand the landscape of immersive theater in New York, encouraging new possibilities for design, environment and participation.
Moody, dark and decadent, the wordless show attracted a legion of super fans, some of whom saw it dozens of times. Not all of those masked fans behaved appropriately. In 2018 Buzzfeed published an exposé in which performers and staffers detailed multiple instances of sexual misconduct. The postpandemic iteration addressed this, advising attendees to “please give your fellow patrons and the residents a bit of breathing room and keep a respectful distance.”
When it closes in January, the show will have played 5,000 performances in its New York City incarnation, serving two million audience members, Hochwald and his producing partner, Arthur Karpati, estimated. For now, the producers plan to continue the McKittrick’s other late-night shows and its bars will remain open, but they are uncertain if they will host another major show.
“We want more than anything to finish up strong and to leave a great legacy,” Hochwald said.