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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Rocking out at Lollapalooza 2011 in Chicago

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Long before I identified myself as a medical writer, researcher, or digital nomad I was a teenager who was obsessed with loud alternative rock. In grade 7, I remember trying to establish what genre of music I should listen to, and no matter what I sampled, I simply could not connect with anything.

All that changed when I first heard a classmate’s cassette of Nirvana’s In Utero while sitting on a school bus.

That sound simply blew me away.

It was a completely transformative moment that paved the way not only for my taste in music, but also for my want to express myself through playing and writing music. Although I still get the guitar out now and then, during high-school, music was my life. After learning how to tune my guitar and learning a few songs, I started a band with a couple of friends. We practiced twice a week, driving our parents crazy in the process. Eventually we started performing beyond the confines of a basement: at our high school, and a couple of local clubs. We even got paid to perform now and then (just enough to cover the gas to get to the venue)! When we weren’t playing music we were going to see other local bands play live. And when there were no shows to see, we would hang around someone’s basement, huddled around a CD player blasting Nirvana, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters, Weezer, Tool, Bush, Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, Silverchair, Pearl Jam, Our Lady Peace, Rusty, I Mother Earth, Tea Party, Hole, Veruca Salt, or any other band from that era.

Although I had attended a few larger concerts and local music festivals during this period, I always knew the biggest venue for seeing live alternative rock was Lollapalooza – an outdoor music festival in the US that always drew the best alternative bands of the time. Unfortunately, at that time, I hardly had the financial means to support a trip to the US for a multi-day music festival. Since then, I have always said that I would eventually attend Lollapalooza and experience it firsthand. When I found out earlier this year that two of my favourite bands, Foo Fighters (a band fronted by the former drummer of Nirvana) and Muse, were making an appearance at this year’s festival, I knew Marina and I had to go.

So one day in the early spring of this year, I purchased the 3-day tickets for a hefty $215 each and later informed a surprised, but supportive Marina.

The concert was held in Chicago’s Grant park during August 5-8 and consisted of 8 stages, and 130 different acts.

Our first day at Lollapalooza - notice how clean we are! This didn't last.

There was A LOT of music. I had an iPhone app that helped us schedule our weekend.

Oh, and did I mention 270,000 people attended over the 3 days?

In other words, there were also A LOT of people.

The whole weekend was an absolute blast.

While some artists were a tad disappointing (e.g. Cee Lo Green of Gnarls Barkley), our two main draws each gave a spectacular performance.

Personal highlights:

1. Muse, a more recent addition to my music collection (since 2004ish), randomly breaking into Nirvana’s “Negative Creep” – a song included on their original debut album from the late 1980’s. This moment brought my whole music journey to a complete circle – simply amazing.

Muse performing at Lollapalooza

2. Dancing and singing along with Foo Fighter’s performing “Everlong” while completely soaked from a downpour in a field full of mud, rain, and what smelled very much like fresh feces (we both lost a pair of shoes during this trip).

 

We're wet, our feet are submedged in mud/feces, and the Foo Fighters rock on!

That’s rock n’ roll!

Foo Fighters performing to a soaked audience

No, it really was that messy...

3. The crowd going crazy as Muse launches into “Plug-in Baby” and giant ‘eyeball’ balloons are dropped on the crowd. Check the video to fully appreciate:

4. Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters frontman, describing the personal significance of Lollapalooza and its creator, Perry Farrell, in the development of alternative rock. See below video. If the rock nostalgia bores you, fast forward to about 3:20 to hear “Everlong.”

What a weekend!

Peter

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