Starting May 9, for a few nights only, New Yorkers can go see a performance piece that encourages its audience to fall asleep. Director Jim Findlay’s dreamy play, Dream of the Red Chamber, is an abstract interpretation of a 2,400-page, 18th century Chinese novel that Findlay read 20 years ago. The idea to create a play for a sleeping audience based on the book, he says, hit him in three seconds.
The performance lasts 61 hours and runs for eight days, with two overnight shows. If you’re a member of Findlay’s audience, your role is simple: Go find one of the 40 beds (outfitted with pillows), chill out, and let yourself be lulled into sleep.
Findlay and his collaborators, however, were faced with a much more complicated task. "This is the big question: What do we actually do once we've given you permission and encouraged you to not pay the normal kind of attention?" he says. "And the piece is my answer to that question."
Less of a play and more of sonic art installation, Dream of the Red Chamber doesn’t follow a linear narrative—because dreams don’t either. Findlay says that besides the novel, he has taken inspiration from the films of Werner Schroeter and the avant-garde artist and composer La Monte Young. The piece itself is stitched together from visuals on a screen, acoustics, and female performers and voice-overs.
"Instead of crafting specific beats intended to elicit specific emotional responses (Look! Feel! Tragedy!), my collaborators and I spend our time creating loops and riffs intended to have the effect of seeping into your subconscious instead of shouting their way in the front door of your brain," Findlay tells Co.Design.
Esoteric as Findlay's thesis might be ("If art usually needs its audience to pay attention, what happens when they don't?"), the director isn't ambiguous about what he's creating. When asked whether Dream of the Red Chamber is meant to inspire a dream-like state, he says no. "We're not fucking around with 'like,' " he says. "We are doing actual dreams. And the liminal territory between asleep and awake is usually the one that audience members remark upon as being the most powerful."
Dream of the Red Chamber will be at the Brill Building in Times Square in New York City from May 9 to 17. It costs nothing to attend, and there's no set arrival or departure time for audience members.