By Leslie Fandrich // Themes: Freedom, Fear // Category: Inspiring Ideas
"Fortune favors the bold."
Those were the words he spoke in the dark elevator. We were already masked and had been told not to speak. The elevator went up, the doors opened and he let one person out. Stretching his hand across the opening he bared anyone else from leaving. The doors closed and the elevator started to go down. He spoke again, this time using my name, "Leslie.... fortune favors the bold."
(It seemed like fortune favored whoever was standing closest to the door.)
The doors opened onto a dimly lit floor and everyone finally spilled out. We were in a dark hallway. There were two different ways to go. The elevator doors closed and there was no turning back. A few individuals went straight down a long hallway and a group of people went around the nearest corner.
(When in doubt, follow the crowd, there is safety in numbers.)
We decided to follow the group and explore what was closest to us. Rounding the corner we were in a
long room with tubs in a row along the wall. An adjacent room contained small metal beds also in a row along the wall, a desk area and a large curio cabinet filled with jars containing strange things. Each bed had a table beside it, a light, and a clip board hanging on the wall. I walked over to the first bed, took the clip board down and read the masthead. It said "St. James Sanitorium".
(Or course. A psych ward. The perfect spot to begin a creepy story full of murder, ambition and lust.)
Chris poked me and when I turned around there was a women in a black dress writhing and moaning at the end of the bed I was standing next to. Surrounding her were dozens of other people like me, in masks. They had all materialized right next to me, without me even noticing. The women began throwing herself on the bed. I stepped back. She stood up, undressed and walked over to the tubs with a nurse while the crowd parted to let her through.
(It was official. I was slightly afraid, completely disoriented and unsure of what to do next. Follow the crazy lady to the tubs or explore the curio cabinet filled with jars?)
And so began our adventure at the mysterious and fascinating off-broadway New York performance of Sleep No More. At it's most basic, the performance is a retelling of Shakespeare's MacBeth. At it's most complex, it is an intricate and nuanced, real life, Choose Your Own Adventure story. There is nothing else like it, and nothing like the fear you face when being thrown into a setting in which you can do anything at all. When there is so much going on, and no one telling you where to go, there is fear everywhere. Fear of missing out. Fear of being dragged into the action. Fear of being alone. Fear of following the crowd. Fear of the dark. Fear of where that light is leading you.
Facing fears was a central part of the experience for me.
For two and a half hours we explored five floors, richly decorated and accessorized with 1930's era props. We chased actors up and down stairs from one room to the next, witnessing murders, sexy encounters, ballroom dancing and slow motion dinner parties. We went alone through a forest and a graveyard. We followed the crowd into a bedroom and a crypt. It was beautiful, mysterious and engaging, but at first, it was a little scary.
We only saw some of the action, we just scratched the surface of things to be found in drawers or suitcases, we did not split up. We were not given anything, we did not have any one-on-one encounters, we missed seeing the most mysterious character. We were maybe only a little bold. By 9:30 we were pretty exhausted and returned to the bar to take off our masks and have a drink. When I told Archie, one of the hosts, that we thought we were done, he told us to head back to the ballroom for a final scene. It was one we had seen before, but the way it ended was different and horrifying. As it goes with MacBeth.
Macbeth is said to be cursed and actors do not call it by name in the theater when it is being performed. Instead, they call it The Scottish Play. Supposedly, Shakespeare used real witch incantations in the story.
When I got home and began reading about everything we had missed, I discovered there were entire scenes, rooms and characters that we didn't even see, I wondered what might have happened if I had been brave enough to split up from Chris and walk solo through the space (as a handful of people, including the guy in the elevator, had encouraged me to do). I vowed to go back and experience it again. I would be less fearful next time because now I knew what to expect and I would feel more comfortable.
The most amazing thing about Sleep No More is that what you do while you are there is completely up to you. Each person's experience is unique and different. What happens depends completely on the choices you make and the situations you put yourself in.
Sound familiar? Remind you of, I dunno, LIFE? I've been struck by the metaphor again and again since I was there. The way that each of us behaves in an environment like Sleep No More probably mirrors what kind of actions we might take in our own lives. Simply wanting to go to a show like this indicates what kind of a risk taker I am and that I am comfortable with the strange and unknown. Let me assure you that this is one of the safest ways to take a risk and the only thing you are in danger of is letting your own fear overcome you. Role playing, being a voyeur and exploring uninhibited is one of the best ways to learn. Just ask a child.
Sleep No More actually taught me some important life lessons!
Guide to Sleep No More (and life in general)
- It's okay to follow the crowd at first but once you are comfortable, break away to find your own unique path.
- The most exciting place to be is next to a character acting out a scene, but quiet moments spent alone in a dark room looking through drawers can be just as profound.
- Sometimes the right thing to do is sit still and let the action come to you, sometimes the right thing to do is chase the action to it's next location. Mix it up and make sure you do both.
- Do a little research before you go, but not too much. You can't possibly know everything and the first time is better without too many spoilers. Read up a bit on the background story, wear comfortable shoes, and hydrate.
- The biggest barrier to having a great time is FEAR and yet fear is inevitable. You will feel it, it will be there, but you have to push past it, you have to embrace it. If you do, you will discover the most beautiful and amazing things.
- The elevator will only take you to the start, to get to the end you have to find your own way.
- You will probably get lost and find yourself wandering in a forest or a graveyard. Keep walking. Eventually you will find your way out.
- Dancing can express emotions better than words.
- To continue moving forward, all you need to do is make a choice. Choose something, anything, and it will take you either somewhere you've never been, or maybe you will find yourself watching the same thing but from a different perspective. If you're bored, keep moving. Keep making choices until you find something new.
- Believe in the story, believe in your part of it. Add to it, if you are invited to. Stand near the front. Look the characters in the eyes. Explore. Be brave.
- There is no right or wrong, better or worse, way to experience it. THERE IS ONLY DIFFERENT. What I want and need is different from you. We cannot possibly do it the same way and our choices are ours alone.
- The witches will surprise you. They always do, don't they?
What I loved the most about this experience was that I was not sitting in a seat watching the action unfold in front of me. I was IN IT. I was making the action happen. I was in control and I had an influence on the outcome. It's modern, it's empowering and it's super dynamic.
I mentioned in my post last week that I wasn't interested in following anyone else's rules anymore, that I was ready to make my own. My experience at Sleep No More illustrates how amazing and problematic that can be. It's amazing because I get to choose! I'm in control! My path is unique! It's problematic because I'm afraid! There are so many choices! No one can tell me if I'm doing the right thing!
Here's the truth that I need to remember: it's ok to be afraid, as long as I keep moving forward. To keep moving forward I have to choose something. Anything. There is no better or worse way to go, only different and if I pick the safe choice this time and the brave choice next time, that's totally ok.
I realized that making my own rules is also much easier when 1. I don't know anything at all (this applies to my teenage rebellion and moving away from home when I was 16.) or 2. I know most of what I need to know (the stage I am currently at with my art and creativity.)
I've found that when I am in the middle of learning something, it's actually better to follow the rules. I learn more that way and it feels much safer. Rules are not inherently bad, they serve the purpose of providing a safety net and guidelines when I'm not sure what choices to make. They create a safe environment to take risks (like Sleep No More does) and provide a framework to start from. At some point though, it's important to gather up what I have learned and decide what does and doesn't work for me. Keep certain rules and toss others away. Get up early or stay up late. Freedom can be found in the lack of knowledge or in the mastery of knowledge and it's far more successful from the latter.
Here is my advice to you: When you are trying to find your own way through things, the biggest barrier will be FEAR. Beware of other people's advice on what to do or what path to take (including MINE!) you might not get the same chances or opportunities, but listen carefully to everything you hear and then make your own choices based on your needs and desires. TRUST YOURSELF. That, more than anything. Trust that you know what you are doing. Trust that you can take care of yourself. Trust that everyone else will be ok. That's true no matter where you decide to jump from.
Finally, if you are in New York, you should really go experience Sleep No More. I am not affiliated with the production or being paid to tell you this. Choose your own adventure. Do not let fear hold you back.
Read More about the topics mentioned in this article:
- Burn the Seats: Felix Barrett (Future of StoryTelling 2013)
- 2011 NY Times Review of Sleep No More
- The Search and the Tail: Approaches to Experiencing Sleep No More
- Karen Thompson Walker: What fear can teach us
- 5 Ways To Conquer Your Fear Of Failure
- My Way on Wikipedia
- Why Sinatra's My Way is my favourite song of all time