I’ve just come back from experiencing ‘Sleep no more’; an immersive dance/ theatre rendition of Macbeth. But there’s no way I can really explain what the hell it was, hence the immersive. You simple have to experience it, and yet one of the most intriguing things is that there so much more that you miss out on than what you actually see. Overhearing other peoples conversations as we left, and searching for images online for this post, I realize I’ve missed out on orgies, killings (as in other killings than the ones I did encounter), a sugar covered goat (!) and other rarities. I don’t know if seeing any of this would have made me any wiser on the Macbeth narrative, but that wasn’t really the point anyway. I had my own experience, stumbling upon my own theatrical highlights and hiddden gems.
‘McKittrick Hotel’ is a dark eerie labyrinth of tableaux set in a Chelsea warehouse, which you explore as you wish, rummaging through papers and knickknacks, bumping into taxidermy or wet washing or finding yourself in a forrest, a graveyard, a hotel lobby or a childrens bedroom. And suddenly you walk into a scene performed by the Punchdrunk troupe, or you can choose to follow the characteres, trailing their storyline. All visitors wear masks and are instructed to keep silent throughout.
‘Gothic’, ‘noir’ and ‘unheimlich’ were the phrases that kept springing to mind, and because the whole experience was so disorientating and surreal, it felt like walking around in a dreamscape, observing things that you don’t quite get, but which clearly have their own logic.Which was super cool, but surely not a place you would want to revisit in dreams.
As a theatrical experience it was very interesting. Even though it probably isn’t the best Macbeth I’ll ever see, it was definitely and inspiring and memorable adventure. But even though I did get slightly envious at all the wonderful drama and make-belive theatre folk get to indulge in, I didn’t quite see why this performance has so inspired the museum crowd that the closing plenary at the upcoming Museums and the Web conference focuses on what museums might learn from immersive theatre in general and Sleep No More in particular. Although I must admit that Seb Chan makes a pretty good case for it, arguing that all storytelling is about perfomance and suggesting we make ‘Wonderment’ a key performance indicator.
If not relevant in every context, I do agree that wonder can work wonders for exhibitions too, as was the case in the Everything You Can Think Of Is True exhibition designed by Robert Wilson at Diamanten a few years back.
Another really clever bit of cultural mediation to be experienced in New York at the moment is the New Museum’s ‘Recalling 1993‘. To accompany their current exhibition about the art scene and urban culture in NYC twenty years ago, pre-Giuliani, they’ve asked artists and others to record their memories of the time, and made them available via public payphones. So, on every street you can pick up the phone a dial a number for free, and hear a story from that particular neighbourhood. How cool is that? I especially think that harnessing a technology that was ‘the mobile phone’ of that time, and which may soon become obsolete, is a stroke of genius.