The Chelsea performance space put on an immersive Halloween production, inviting guests to ‘unleash the monster within’
The McKittrick Hotel is a labyrinth of debauchery. For the past 12 years, the performance space—located in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood—has been home to Sleep No More, an immersive theatrical production loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, during which audience members can freely roam the building while observing mesmerizing dance sequences. Other McKittrick offerings include Hypnotique, a late-night burlesque show, and At the Illusionist’s Table, which combines magic with fine dining and expensive whiskey. Programming is reliably sexy, steampunk, and somnambulant, and visitors come expecting to be transported to murkier worlds.
One might imagine autumn is the McKittrick’s native season, but MONSTER: A Halloween Party—which invites guests “to unleash their inner beast and discover the monster within”—offers all the visual spectacle, with less experiential punch. I arrived shortly before 11 p.m. as a “Guest of Oz,” part of a tiered ticketing system that allowed me and my friend to skip the outside line and go straight into the belly of the beast. Compared to the bustle of West 27th Street, the new ambience was disorienting. Entering the hotel feels like when Harry Potter accidentally apparated to Knockturn Alley.
“The monster within, it turned out, was Instagram.”
The festivities unfolded across Sleep No More’s many sets (five stories’ worth), featuring a ballroom runway, a string quartet, and a techno dance floor with a live DJ. In the hotel’s cavernous banquet room—home to Sleep No More’s shocking climax—performers danced on elevated platforms above shimmying guests, a scene straight out of a Paolo Sorrentino film. In another room, which resembled a Victorian hospital ward, people climbed in and out of rows of clawfoot bathtubs, while hidden cameras broadcasted the frolicking onto wall-mounted monitors, like shaky CCTV footage. My favorite area was the second-floor speakeasy, where a big band played arrangements of “Dies Irae” amidst plush velvet curtains.
On the surface, the show seemed a veritable bacchanal, but for all its cinematic glossiness, MONSTER felt as two-dimensional as a television screen. The performances were stunning, yet ultimately decorative: Guests were too busy having fun to really notice. Even just seeing the entertainment was a challenge; the stairwells were packed, traffic jams usually caused by groups stopping to take selfies. Some costumes were certainly worth documenting—an entourage of women arrived as Follies girls, for instance—but I found myself missing Sleep No More’s more curated environment. For that show, visitors are required to keep phones under lock and key. The monster within, it turned out, was Instagram.
One of the allures of immersive theater—at least the kind that Sleep No More employs, and which MONSTER seemed to half-heartedly aspire to—is that it offers visitors a palpable sense of risk typically absent from daily life. Sometimes the outside world trickles in, reminding us where true adventure waits. Before departing, my friend and I stopped for a drink at the hotel’s rooftop bar. Looking over the balcony to the street below, we saw a man too drunk to stand. He kept trying, unsuccessfully, until a costumed crowd gathered to help, and a car was called. We watched it disappear around the corner, heading toward Lower Manhattan: the real labyrinth.