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Real Interaction- Sleep No More

October 9, 2012

Most of our live art experiences; concerts, theater, comedy shows, museums, are usually pretty passive in their nature and form; we tend to lean back and take in the experience, rather than seeking it out, exploring and interacting.

Punchdrunk is a UK performance group, who for the past couple of years has been staging a version of Macbeth, Sleep No More in New York, to sell out crowds, in 100,000 sq. ft. of former nightclub space.

While there’s a stage where some of the action takes place, the audience is actively encouraged to roam around the building, opening doors and looking around in rooms to get closer to the action and uncover storylines. The seductively elaborate sets include; an infirmary complete with beds, a padded cell, doctors offices, a giant bathroom with multiple baths, a chapel, a hotel lobby space with a reception and dining area and even a forest.  When you are in these spaces, you are free to read the books and papers, open draws and cabinets, sit on the chairs and couches and pour yourself a cocktail, if one happens to be available.

The experience starts when you are given a playing card with a number and make your way to a bar area that looks like a relic from the late 1930s, here you are encouraged to partake in some absinthe and wait to be called. When you then gather as a group, you are told to remain silent are given a Venetian style carnival mask, which you are told you must wear all the time. During the “briefing” you are reminded that should it all become a little too much for you, there’s always the opportunity for you to return back to the safe haven of the bar.

As you make your way around the rooms in the different floors you find the dramatic action takes place around you; fights, arguments, love scenes happen right in front of your eyes and occasionally audience members are randomly and unexpectedly used as performers an inhabit a scene, or an actor running through a hallway grabs onto your shoulders as he passes through.

It’s a radically different way of thinking about performance and as an audience member it totally immerses you in the “dream state” of the piece, it allows you to see acting and drama in a new light and you truly become part of the action. It short it makes for something that because of your actions becomes truly memorable.

In a world where digital is fast replacing the real, Punchdrunk’s performance reaffirms the power of real.

In many ways the structure follows the familiar path of contemporary videogames (levels, rooms and free exploration), where you are the camera, but does it in a real world surrounded by a live actors and an audience to create something quite unique.

Judging from the popularity of this show, I can only see others coming forward to do more of this type of thing. It’s clear that people are craving it and there’s certainly a whole world of possibilities that can be explored around the idea and lots of options a range of different audience interactions.

Not surprisingly, brands have already tapped into Punchdrunk’s magic, a year or so back, Stella launched a new lager in the UK by creating an immersive experience with the group.