Sleep No More in New York City

SleepNoMore

The distorted bass line of a techno track wobbles in sync with the pulsing of strobe lights. In the centre of the room, Macbeth wavers unsteadily atop a round table, his arms outstretched to the ceiling. Three nude witches writhe in a trance around the table; one of them is holding a bloody baby doll, while another is wearing a Minotaur mask.

Looking to my right, I realize I am not the only spectator here. A dozen other voyeurs, all hidden behind white Venetian masks, stand transfixed by the ensuing techno orgy.

Unfortunately, since losing her over an hour ago, I have yet to find Marina. That’s what I get for googling “weird things to do in NYC.”

On a whim, we had purchased tickets for Sleep No More, an immersive theatre production based loosely on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The show involves some 20 actors and takes place throughout five floors of a fictional 1940s hotel named the McKittrick, located in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. Sleep No More is equal parts theatre, haunted house and burlesque show.

The night started innocently enough, as Marina and I enjoyed a drink at the hotel’s smoky Manderley Bar. Before long, we received our masks and were herded into a dark elevator with several others.

“As guests of the McKittrick hotel, you should be aware of a few rules,” the elevator operator began. “Your mask must stay on at all times. There is absolutely no talking. Most importantly, there is no hand holding.”

Marina squeezes my hand. The elevator lurches to a stop and the door opens to a dark hall.

With a menacing tone the bellhop offers his final piece of advice: “Remember, fortune favours the bold.”

Just as Marina steps off the elevator ahead of me, the bellhop extends his arm and blocks my exit. The door closes between us. As soon as I am set free on another floor, I begin my search for Marina.

Instead, I come across an unmasked young woman with strawberry blonde hair dancing in an empty ballroom. A single spotlight illuminates her flowing movement, while a soft stringed melody provides a soundtrack.

I pause and watch the performance. Without warning, the music cuts out.

The woman abruptly ceases dancing and runs into the darkness. Instinctively, I follow, chasing her through the hall, down a set of stairs, and into a luxurious hotel suite.

Suddenly she stops, turns and looks directly into my eyes with an unnerving intensity. Feeling protected behind my mask, I stand still. Without breaking eye contact, she approaches slowly, leans in and kisses me on the neck.

Then she bolts again.

I’m left paralyzed. I remember Marina when an upbeat big band song from the 1930s shakes me from my reviere.

Over the next few hours, as the protagonist in my very own Choose Your Adventure, I witness bar fights, ballroom dancing, spousal abuse, murder, and a healthy dose of nudity in and around the abundant bathtubs in the hotel.

Marina and I finally find each other, while standing inches from one such bathtub in which a fully naked and blood-covered Macbeth was being washed by his wife.

In the taxi back to our hotel, we shed our sweaty masks and chatter excitedly about the night. It might be 2:45 a.m. but sleep is the last thing on our mind.

Note: An edited version of this story was published in the Globe and Mail.

Peter

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Living an examined life

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With Thailand on my right, and Laos on my left, I type these words while seated on-board a slow boat drifting gently down the Mekong River.

We are nearly an hour into our approximately 14 hour journey from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, Laos.

Despite my usual fears, our vessel is actually very comfortable. All nine of us on board have our own table as well as a double seat which looks to have been removed from a van or small bus. The gentle breeze, the rumbling engine, the subtle side-to-side  rocking of the boat, and the spectacular views of riverside villages have completely silenced all passengers. Some (including Marina seated in front of me) are absorbed in their book, others listen to music, while some write in their journals.

No one dares to break the silence.

There’s something quite amazing about traveling slowly, knowing that you have no hurry to get to your destination. There are few distractions. You quickly forget the urgency of life back home and settle into a more meditative state. Your mind – usually flexed with tension of looming deadlines, responsibilities, expectations, incoming emails, etc. – finally stretches out.

Thoughts of weekend plans, that erroneous cell-phone bill you need to call about, or the repairs needed on your car fizzle away to obscurity as you ponder your path in life, reassess your values, carefully recount the errors you’ve made, and focus on what you really require to be happy and content in your life.

An unexamined life is not worth living.

- Socrates

This is the gift of prolonged travel – whether by bus, boat, train, or plane. Many people embark on longer journeys with the purpose of “finding themselves”; the notion being that somewhere on the treadmill of modern life they’ve managed to become lost.

But all most of us require is some time and solitude, and the opportunity to examine our life from an aerial rather than the usual street view.

I can’t pretend that travel is the panacea for all of one’s problems; the problems you leave behind when you strap on your backpack are waiting to greet you upon return. However, if you’re feeling lost, lacking purpose, or uninspired, a sabbatical of some sort might be just the cure. You needn’t go far – maybe a staycation is all that is necessary. Just some time to break away from the monotony of everyday life.

Beware the bareness of a busy life.

- Socrates

Peter

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