Dom Rye – Performer in Shanghai’s Sleep No More
By Liam Klenk
In January 2020, Dom Rye, a theatre performer from the UK, went to join Sleep No More, an immersive theatre show in Shanghai. Only a couple months later, his experience was cut short by the outbreak of Covid19. Albeit short, Dom’s experiences in Shanghai were enriching and something he will never forget.
Learn more about Dom and the fascinating show he worked for in our short interview:
Hello Dom, thanks for making time for this interview. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Sure. I am originally from the Midlands in the UK. I went to a comprehensive school (i.e. not a private school) and before going to drama school I went to University to do a degree in Modern Languages. Performing was always my dream, but I wanted to have a safety net in case things didn’t work out. I had an ear for languages from a young age so that seemed the logical direction for me.
At the end of my undergraduate, I was offered a scholarship to stay on for another year and study for a Masters (in translation studies). While finishing my thesis, I took a job in a local stage school as an accompanist in their singing lessons.
After so long in academia, I had nearly forgotten my initial ambition of going to drama school and acting, but working in the stage school reignited my desire.
Inspired by the performers at the school, I auditioned for some of the famous UK drama schools and was offered a place at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
After three years of training, I signed with an agent and set out into the world of theatre. A lot of the jobs I was offered involved actor-musician skills. While there are courses that train these specific skills, the course I studied focussed almost exclusively on acting and hardly involved any musical theatre elements.
I learnt ‘on the job’ from some immensely talented performers, directors, composers and musical directors, and had a very enjoyable and varied string of jobs around the UK.
When and how did you hear about the show in Shanghai?
The job offer came through like most of the other work I get: I was invited to audition for Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More (in this case a movement workshop) in the summer of 2019, after which the job offer came in to my agent.
It was a style of work quite different from anything I had done before. Rather than calling for musical skills, Sleep No More sits on the border between physical theatre and dance.
Many of the performers in the show come from a dance background, and actors were in the minority.
Nothing I had done before had prepared me for such a physical show, so it was a fantastic job for opening up new ways of working. I was instantly hooked and lucky to be chosen to perform in the show.
Did you ever work outside the UK before you went to Shanghai?
No. Sleep No More was my first international theatre job. I should have been there from January until September, but my contract was cut short by border closures due to Covid19, preventing me from returning to work after a short break back home in March. It was a pity, too. I loved performing in the show and played ‘Husband’ and ‘Man in Bar’ on alternating shows.
Can you tell us a bit more about the show?
Sleep No More was incredible. So detailed and vast all at the same time. It was an enormous immersive experience. Audiences can go wherever they like over 5 floors where over 20 characters are going about their stories – coming together, separating etc. The individual audience member picks who to follow, where to explore, as though directing their own filmic version of the show that only they will see.
How was the Sleep No More team in Shanghai? Mostly Chinese, or did you have many foreigners?
Compared to what I had experienced before, the team was enormous. Around 40 performers and I don’t even know how many on the technical side. There was a mix of many nationalities including British, American, Australian, New Zealand, French, Italian, Chinese, Taiwanese. Working with such a large international team was really enjoyable. Also, coming into a show which was already well loved and had an established fan base was very exciting.
It was such a valuable experience to be a part of that cultural exchange and coming together. Rehearsals and meetings were carried out in English and Mandarin, with translators where needed.
Now, Sleep No More has reopened with reduced audience capacity. Unfortunately, the border and visa situation is still critical. I am not sure if and when I’ll be able to continue my work in Shanghai.
Thank you Dom and best of luck!
Here a few more infos about Dom’s show Sleep No More in Shanghai:
“Sleep No More tells Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Macbeth through a darkly cinematic lens, offering an audience experience unlike anything else. Audiences move freely through the epic story, creating their own journeys through a film noir world.
Taking Punchdrunk’s work to Asia for the very first time, Punchdrunk International and SMG Live have co-produced a re-imagined version of the original production, now set in Shanghai in the 1930s. This production sees new surprises hidden across five storeys of this newly built building in the Jing’An district.
Sleep No More received the prestigious Best Breakthrough Act at Shanghai’s Annual TV & Culture Awards on 13 June 2017.
The production received a Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement in Connected Immersion Theatre in November 2017.”
More from Liam Klenk:
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