Sexually charged and full of nude and semi-nude performances, the acclaimed "Sleep No More" show at the McKittrick Hotel in New York City has been viewed by millions of patrons since 2011. But former actors are alleging that aspects of the show have allowed audience members to inappropriately touch them (sometimes without repercussions) on a plethora of occasions.
Inspired by the play "Macbeth," "Sleep No More" is an artistic voyage in which patrons move from room-to-room, being allowed to interact with each scene in ways they wouldn’t ordinarily be allowed to do in conventional plays. Actors are often covered with stage blood, naked, or dressed provocatively, but audience members are not allowed to touch them, even as performers often take individuals into one-on-one situations in separate rooms.
A BuzzFeed report on the show details how performers over the years have been sexually harassed and abused by audience members. In one instance, a performer said a member of the audience tried to insert a finger into his anus. In another example, a female stagehand alleged a male patron rubbed his genitals on her.
Aspects of the show exacerbate the problem, according to former workers. For instance, audience members are given masks during the performances, allowing them anonymity as they journey from room to room. Disclaimers about touching the performers are not made clear, these workers allege, and encouragement of excessive drinking in the lobby beforehand doesn't help things, either.
The protocol for dealing with unruly audience members is also questionable. If a member of the audience behaves in an inappropriate way, the performer is instructed to remove their mask. That signals to other workers that the individual needs to be escorted out of the performance area and to the bar, where they meet with management to discuss the issue.
At this point, the audience member can either be returned to the performance — again, hidden under their mask — or told they must wait for friends or family at the bar, and must leave after the conclusion of the show.
Sexual harassment in many workplaces can often result in little, if any, outcomes favorable to the victims. Performers at "Sleep No More" say they, too, are given little recourse for resolving problematic audience members, even after management agrees that a customer was acting in an inappropriate way.
“Even if I, as a performer, wanted to press charges, there was no way I would ever know who did it. To me that was an issue,” said former performer Billy Bell.
Some performers did tell BuzzFeed that they felt safe at the shows, and others said they were surprised upon hearing about the allegations being made. But that doesn’t dismiss the fact that at least 17 incidents were alleged to have occurred, most of which the production won’t acknowledge happened.
Even in sexually-charged performances, actors like those on the set of "Sleep No More" deserve to be protected. Protocols that have already been established by the company putting on the show are a good start, but more must be done to reduce abuses in the future, including alerting audience members about their responsibilities and allowing performers to confront those who disregard the rules.
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