New York’s popular immersive theater production coming to Shanghai

By Sun Shuangjie in Shanghai Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/20 16:13:00

A scene from a performance of Sleep No More in New York Photo: Courtesy of Stephen Dobbie and Lindsay Nolin

"We prepared 16,000 tickets for the first run of the Shanghai version of Sleep No More. Beyond out expectations, more than half of the tickets have been sold," Ma Chencheng, director of SMG Performing Arts Group's (SPAG) Industry Center and producer of the performance, told the Global Times Monday afternoon, five days after they started selling tickets.

Created by British company Punchdrunk in 2003, Sleep No More is one of the most popular immersive theater productions in the world. Now, after a successful run in London, Boston and New York, the production is coming to Shanghai in a new version tailored for Chinese audiences. This also marks the first time Punchdrunk has presented their works in Asia.

The new version, co-produced by China's SPAG and Punchdrunk, is scheduled to premiere in early December and end around the Chinese New Year.

Create your own experience

It's been four years since Ma made the decision to present a quality work of immersive theater in Shanghai after watching Sleep No More in New York.

Adapted from Shakespeare's Macbeth, the interactive work takes place in a building with more than 100 rooms where performances can take place right among the audience, who are free to walk around to appreciate the show at their own pace. Audiences can either follow specific characters, or just wander around the theatrical space to take in the atmospheric environment that reveals details relevant to the story.

The show features no spoken lines, instead the story is delivered through physical performances and contemporary dance. The audience wears masks during the show that turn them into "ghosts" who can interact with the characters. Each show lasts for three hours, during which time the story is staged three times so the audience can appreciate it from different perspectives. Moreover, the audience has the opportunity to interact one-on-one with some of the actors during the show.

"It was a revolutionary experience," Ma recalled.

"It completely changed the relationship between the actors and the audience by creating an atmosphere of involvement. I was also very much impressed with the design of the overall environment, the way different groups of characters moved throughout the large building and the extraordinary contemporary dance routines presented by them."

The New York version, created in 2011 and winner of the 2011 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience, has been performed in the city for six years in a row, attracting a stellar list of spectators including Leonardo DiCaprio, Natalie Portman, Madonna and Justin Timberlake.

SPAG started negotiations with Punchdrunk two years ago, and production on the Shanghai version has been underway since last year. An unfinished building on 1013 Beijing West Road is being renovated for the show, which will take place from the first to the fifth floor for a total area of 6,000 square meters. Meanwhile, an extra 4,000-square-meter area will be dedicated to entertainment facilities such as a bar and restaurant. The team dubbed the building The McKinnon Hotel, the bigger sister to The McKittrick Hotel, the venue that hosts the New York version.

Shanghai special

Felix Barrett, Punchdrunk's artistic director and co-director of Sleep No More, spoke highly of the Shanghai venue, which he said offered more freedom when it came to specially altering the interior to better present the story. In previous versions, the design team had to design scenes around the original floor plans of the building.

Like the New York version, The McKinnon Hotel will also be set in the 1930s and present a Hitchcock-style atmosphere, as Barrett thinks Hitchcock's style is the best fit for the suspenseful and melancholy atmosphere in Macbeth.

According to Barrett, the Shanghai production will retain the essence from the previous versions while providing a new experience by introducing Shanghai and Asian features. Actors performing in previous versions will make up about two-thirds of the Shanghai cast, while the rest will be new actors chosen for their contemporary dance skills and understanding of Chinese and Asian culture.

Localization has also included some censorship concerns, for instance, some nude scenes in previous renditions will be presented in a more indirect way in Shanghai.

Ma regards the introduction of Sleep No More to China as a bold move for SPAG, since immersive theater is still relatively new to the market. However, he also sees it as a valuable opportunity to train a professional Chinese team in the production and management of an immersive theater production.

"We'll evaluate the quality of the show and its reception among audiences during the first run, and if it proves popular in Shanghai as well, we will consider continuing it as a regular show in the city," Ma told the Global Times.

The budget for the Shanghai version has reached more than 80 million yuan ($12 million), most of which have been covered by a number of commercial sponsors, said Ma. Ticket prices are expected to range from 550-650 yuan, close to the prices for the New York version.

Newspaper headline: ‘Sleep No More’

Posted in: Theater

blog comments powered by Disqus