There are few things harder to understand as a kid than having to uproot and move. Getting familiar with a new town, fitting in at a new school, making new friends – these things are hard enough when you’re an adult in control of the situation. As a kid who doesn’t quite yet understand how the world works, it erases nearly everything you knew and forces you to start over.
In large part due to an addiction to Kickstarter that has been described as “compulsive”, I recently backed the production of Then She Fell by Third Rail Projects, an immersive theatre experience that revolves around Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland. As part of my backer perks, I was invited to a dress rehearsal last night – below are some broad thoughts and observations about the performance (mostly contrasted with Sleep No More as a reference point) in advance of the opening later this week.
A few introductory notes:
- I’m staying away from detailing specific scenes/sets/story points; this will mostly be about the experience. Some might consider this spoiler-y, so if you want to go in with no preconceptions at all, stay away from the rest of this post. SPOILER WARNING.
- This was a dress rehearsal, which meant the show wasn’t quite ready. There are a handful of minor complaints I’m leaving out of this post as the team gave every indication it’ll be tightened up for the opening. (We were allowed to give feedback at the end of the show and those points have been lodged there.)
- The show is already sold out for the entire run and it seems unlikely that they’ll be extending it into perpetuity as Punchdrunk has with SNM. If this interests you and you don’t already have tickets, you are most likely out of luck.
Down the rabbit hole we go.
I’ve spent a lot of time in 2011 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. Instead of my usual end-of-year game recommendations, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. This is the last post in the series. See all Games of 2011 posts.
Surprise: my Game Of The Year isn’t a video game. (I never said they were all going to be electronic.) And yes, it’s Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, which I’ve talked about on this blog twice before, and is perhaps the closest thing to a real life video game I’ve ever found, and perhaps ever will.
Those of you who follow me on social networks have probably missed out on the incessent gushing about the show I tend to do in person. It has become an all-consuming experience; I have made a somewhat absurd four visits to the McKittrick Hotel for performances, including one just over a week ago. Some might feel this is three times too many. (Others might argue it’s four times too many.) I am fully and well hooked on this thing, and I won’t be surprised if I notch a fifth trip sometime in 2012. The friends who have been tend to be understanding and share a desire to go back. Here’s why:
People who have played games for a significant length of time have certain behaviors become hard wired into their play style. If you grew up with Wolfenstein and Doom, you become accustomed to pressing on every wall, hoping for a secret passage to open. RPG addicts know to search every container in the hopes of finding something useful or interesting. Stealth-action gamers are used to slinking along behind characters, hoping to figure out their secrets. And so on.
These skills are generally not acceptable to use in real life; most of us don’t spend our days exploring strange spaces, investigating someone’s bedroom, or following strange people about their business. This is where Sleep No More fits in perfectly – it’s a meticulously designed playground where you can make use of these habits and skills. This is a space where you want to be looking, touching, feeling, and exploring at every turn.
There’s no way to win this game, of course – the show ends after three hours, and you are gently ushered out of the hotel space. There’s also no way to see every last thing that happens during the show in a single visit. But you may have pieced together how some characters interact, or found a secret passage, or even helped run messages between characters.
Punchdrunk has designed the show to allow the audience the freedom to indulge in anonymity and voyeurism – the masks, the mandate that there is no talking inside the space, the use of light and shadow. The experience makes it easy to detach from yourself and become your own avatar, so long as you can break down some of the psychological barriers that tend to prevent people from doing the things you should do in this world. (More on these later.) The cast has a trick up their sleeves, of course: they are fully allowed to interact with you, and will choose to do so with those that are clearly engaged and unafraid. As you are told in the elevator, fortune favors the bold.
This is not a world for the faint of heart. The company now warns that the audience may experience “intense psychological experiences”. There is violence (multiple murders), nudity (both genders), and absinthe served at the bar. There are strobe lights, smoke machines, and in one scene, some incredibly loud drum and bass music. There is running up and down flights of stairs, and the slight-but-ever-present danger of being hit by one of the staff as they perform their dances (as Katie learned when she was kicked in the arm during our last visit). The show lasts at most three hours, which may be more than those with low stamina can withstand.
But no matter how much my feet hurt when I exit back into the streets of Chelsea, there is nothing else like it I’ve ever experienced in my life. I feel so fortunate to have gotten to go as much as I have, and yet I always want to go back as soon as I can. Everyone who enjoys games as a hobby should make a point of going before the show ends its run, whenever that may be.
The remainder of this post, as some sort of twisted holiday present, are essentially my complete set of notes about the show – how it’s structured, how to plan your visits, and even a set of imaginary achievements. The information in that section is extremely spoilery, and I agree with the common wisdom that you should take in your first visit to the show essentially blind – it’s more fun that way. So save the details in the rest of this post until you’ve gone once.
Sleep No More is currently extended through February, and may continue to extend as Punchdrunk sees fit.
Out of the twenty MLS matches I have attended to date, that was by far the most interesting. It is also the first time I have stood with the Empire Supporters Club for the game, which involved 90 minutes of chanting, standing, and clapping.
Inside: thoughts about the officiating, the experience at JELD-WEN Field, and the inevitable hilarity that came from staying in the same hotel as the team.
The truth is, I don’t actually watch a lot of TV. I can’t remember a time that I did, at least not after college started. The list of shows that pull my full attention can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare.
But one of those shows is Doctor Who.
This is mud. Three hours of heavy rain shortly after the start of the festival combined with a not insignificant number of feet walking across the grounds combined with the frequent animal visitors to the park (geese / dogs / feral cats / et cetera) yield a unique mud blend that is extremely slick yet sticky and also heavily smells of shit. While the texture will threaten to cause you both to slip and to be stuck, this is temporary and location based. The smell will burn your nostrils for the duration of the festival no matter where you are positioned.
This is how you discover your new favorite band, later.
An overzealous look at the various ways that “Cornell Red” appears on the web.
Some circumstances tonight – a trip to the grocery store on the light rail; a cold rain making the ground wet and reflective; some noir jazz getting shuffled onto my headphones – yielded the right conditions for a video.