Sophie Bortolussi could probably sleepwalk through the McKittrick Hotel. As a performer, choreographer, and director, she has been involved with Punchdrunk’s critically acclaimed production of Sleep No More at the fabled venue since 2011. Audiences first saw the London based show in Boston in 2009. In March 2011, it found a permanent home at the McKittrick—along with a flood of critical acclaim and audience admiration.
Like every other production, it was forced to shut down when Covid struck, but recently reopened in the same space. Sleep No More is an immersive piece of theater, based on the Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Guests wear ominous masks and journey through different rooms where scenes and ideas from the Bard’s work are presented. It does not contain a linear narrative. Instead, guests are invited to their own unique experience.
Manhattan Digest spoke with the French born (Dijon) Bortolussi about her time with the show and the journey from her award-winning turn as Lady Macbeth to supervising the entire cauldron.
MD: How did you become involved with Sleep No More ?
SB: In the fall of 2010, I had auditioned after seeing them in Boston. At the time, I was involved in a site-specific theater company but they were looking for people for New York City. After the audition, I got the job and started in 2011.
MD: Did you start as a resident director?
SB: No. I started as Lady Macbeth and stayed for a year and a half. Then came back from time to time to fill in for different roles. Later, I began directing the parties and over big events that they had through the building. Really, there were multiple phases I’ve worked since initially starting in 2010. When they reopened the show after lockdown, they asked me to become assistant director.
MD: Talk a bit about the rehearsal process?
SB: They are all held at the McKittrick. It’s essential that they are held in the building. The show is highly scripted, and we are all spread out through the building. As directors, we walk around during rehearsals and look at different scenes, so we have a different set of eyes on each scene. The timing is precise. It’ s important that every actor knows when and where to go, otherwise things will get out of sync.
MD: Have you ever lost or forgotten a cast member or guest?
SB: A performer? Never. By the time we’ve rehearsed, the performers know where they should be.
MD: Yes. I suppose if you have a lost performer, they should probably be fired. (laughs)
SB: Or I should be fired! Someone must not be doing their job. (laughs) Once you know the building, it’s not as intimidating. People know it inside and out. I don’t have any firsthand experiences, but I had overheard once that stage management once found someone in the coffin in the undertaker’s office at the end of the night. The person crawled in and fell asleep!
MD: Have there been superfans?
SB: Oh yes. Big time. I know some of them but as a performer, I chose not to engage too much because I liked to separate myself from the building when I wasn’t working there. But we appreciate them. Some have come 7 times or more. They are amazing and their love for the show is inspiring. They add so much passion and are great audience members to have in the room.
MD: Is it the intent of the creators and cast to leave the audience with an understanding of Macbeth?
SB: It is heavily based on the Shakespearean play. But it’s also inspired by Hitchcock films and the era of the 1930s. One can certainly find references to the play throughout the building
MD: What has been your biggest reward in working on Sleep No More?
SB: After working with the show for so long, I still find myself being surprised by it. Sometimes actors will open another dimension in the scene that I hadn’t seen before. It’s exciting to work with the performer to find more motivation and exploration of the scene.
MD: How did you spend time during lockdown?
SB: I was on tour with another show when the pandemic came, but my family and I settled upstate. I was super busy with children, but I was also dreaming of other projects.
Sleep No More is currently running at the McKittrick Hotel (530 West 27th Street between 10th/11th). For tickets and information, click here