Punchdrunk / Media Lab update – May 2012
This blog post has been written by Colin Nightingale (Senior Producer, Punchdrunk)
I joined Punchdrunk almost ten years ago and during that time I have been heavily involved in the creation, production management and producing of virtually all the company’s major projects. Most recently, I consulted closely with the team building Sleep No More in New York to help realise the project within the given time. Since the shows opening, I have remained resident in the city for extended periods of time advising the executive producers (Emursive) on matters regarding the maintenance of the show and the development of secondary activity at the McKittrick Hotel (home of Sleep No More) without losing the integrity and attention of the main production. This placed me in an ideal position to consider the challenges that the NESTA funded research project has presented as we work together with MIT Media Lab to realise this ambitious project. My involvement in the whole process has been a great opportunity for me to learn directly from Media Lab about the capabilities of current technology. Since the early days of Punchdrunk, there has always been a desire to explore the territory between online environments and the tangible worlds we create and it is hugely exciting to have had the opportunity to delve deeper into this area than ever before and really start to imagine the future.
A major challenge for me personally has been working in isolation over here in New York, whilst the rest of the core Punchdrunk team has been working in London throughout the majority of the development phase. Punchdrunk’s creative process is naturally organic and constantly evolving but this has been especially true in this instance, given the unknowns that you inevitably face whilst working on a research project of this nature. However, the wonders of email and Skype (however imperfect it is at times) have been invaluable and have allowed us to stay well connected in between the short trips that the Punchdrunk and Media Lab teams have been able to make to New York.
Over the last two months, as the shape of the project has finally settled down, we have been working hard to solve the challenge of the integration of all the new ideas into the larger Sleep No More production. One major challenge, and something that I have personally found fascinating, has been considering how we create an experience for the live participants in the ‘show world’ that doesn’t disrupt or prove detrimental to the wider Sleep No More audience. This has involved careful analysis of the character performance loops in order to identify spare windows of time in specific locations in the building to exploit for this project. Thanks to the incredibly detailed information that has been carefully documented by Carrie Boyd and the Stage Management team, this has been a relatively painless process. The daunting part has been discovering how intricately we had originally filled the building with activity. Therefore we have come to realize that the windows of opportunity have been smaller and fewer than we first envisaged and we will be working hard in the rehearsals to make sure that everything is possible in the pockets of time that do exist.
A Special Ops design team has been formed to work on some new design ideas that will be installed in the space especially for the NESTA project. Under the guidance of the original Designers Livi Vaughan and Beatrice Minns, new props have been sourced and made, all in keeping with the overall aesthetic of the McKittrick Hotel.
We have also been making steady progress with the installation of the new technical infrastructure that the project requires to make possible all the incredible ideas that MIT Media Lab have developed to allow the online and real world participants to explore their separate environments whilst connected, and at times able to interact and guide each other. Over 8000 ft of new cable runs have been installed around the building and this weekend Ben Bloomberg from Media Lab has been in New York making final adjustments to ensure that all the cable is working and that the newly installed internet is fully operational ready for the start of some intense testing over the coming weeks.
All of this activity has had to be scheduled around the general day to day maintenance and rehearsals that are required to keep Sleep No More running 8 times a week along with the many one off events that are now being hosted in the 100,000 sq ft of the McKittrick Hotel. There are around 150 people working in the building on a weekly basis and we greatly appreciate everyone’s help in accommodating this project, from the producers (Emursive) with their willingness and flexibility to Wayne and his amazing maintenance team who have even kindly given up part of their workshop to become the control center for the project. Excitement and intrigue is growing, and everyone in the building is very much looking forward to beginning the testing phase and finally seeing all the abstract ideas that we have been trying to describe become a reality.