The site-specific Shakespeare redux “Sleep No More” is big: Big space, big cast, big ambitions, big risk.
The show’s capitalization costs are, according to producers, well into the seven figures — on a commercial Off Broadway landscape where as little as $400,000 can make for an unusually pricey undertaking.
It’s also nearly impossible to categorize. Brit company Punchdrunk’ environmental, film-noir dance retelling of “Macbeth” mashes up elements of theater, installation art and nightlife in a way that’s difficult to sum up for potential ticketbuyers.
Plus, there’s a bar. Oh, and producers intend to launch a fully operational restaurant in the space sometime this summer.
In its aim to consolidate an entertainment attraction with other elements of a night out, it’s similar to the all-in-one movie complexes that, like Arc-light Cinemas in Hollywood, have proven successful in luring auds out of their homes.
“It’s not traditional theater, and because it blurs the line between so many genres, it opens up a lot of interesting audience segments,” says Jonathan Hochwald, one of the commercial producers.
The project also reps an unusual combo of boundary-crossing creative impulses — led by Punchdrunk a.d. Felix Barrett — and the business aspirations spearheaded by Emursive, a trio of producers that includes the Box impresario Randy Weiner, real estate developer Arthur Karpati and Hochwald, whose more broadly commercial resume includes 18 years at the live entertainment firm that ultimately became LiveNation as well as a recent stint with MSG Entertianment and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
“Sleep No More” gives each theatergoer an “Eyes Wide Shut”-style mask and encourages them to wander, freely and largely unguided, over a many-floored, 100,000-square-foot space to explore some 95 meticulously detailed rooms designed to look like (among other interiors) the fictional McKittrick Hotel (a name copped from “Vertigo”).
More than 25 performers act out a condensed, mostly wordless version of the Scottish Play all throughout the building, with theatergoers just as likely to stumble upon a weird sister in a solitary moment of conjuration as the pivotal banquet scene in which Banquo’s ghosts returns.
The show, which is set to a drama-boosting film-noir soundtrack, bowed in an empty Victoria-era school in London before a run at A.R.T. in Boston. In New York, it’s playing not in the theater district but on a far western block in Chelsea, more usually the home to galleries and megaclubs; the building that now houses “Sleep No More” was once the hot spot Twilo.
The rent for that huge block of prime real estate reps one of the major costs of the production. And that’s in addition to the four months of construction, design and set dressing that went into turning the space’s individual rooms into locations in a hotel or on a main street or in a deeply creepy asylum. Designers have worked to ensure no detail (including the odors in certain rooms) is overlooked: Open a letterpouch in the murdered king’s trunk, and find a sheaf of handwritten correspondence addressed to the monarch.
The perf bends too many genres to fall under union jurisdiction, so those regulations (and their attendant costs) aren’t a factor. Still, there’s a packed roster of personnel to pay, including the performers, a 15-strong squad of chaperoning “stewards,” security, bar staff and the live band that plays toward the end of the evening in the ’40s-nightclub lobby.
Attendance is capped at 350 per each three-hour perf, with a latenight slot following the usual 7 p.m. start on Fridays and Saturdays. With tickets set at $75, the gross potential is just a fraction of a typical Broadway offering.
“It needs to be financially sustainable, of course,” Barrett says. “But I’d never want to compromise the work by chucking in more audience.”
Instead, says Hochwald, revenue from the bar and the restaurant are also part of the business plan — and part of the assiduously designed atmosphere that, collaborators say, contribute to the intrigue of the project.
“We’re trying to make a whole evening theatrical,” Barrett says.