When purchasing tickets for the immersive Counting Sheep, which has an aura of enthusiastic word of mouth spreading through Vaults that any theatre company would relish, you are given two options: protestor or observer. We went as protestors.
Since the last time I was a participatory audience member must have been as a small child, forced on stage as a “birthday treat” at the pantomime, I felt it was necessary to bring one of my actor friends. Someone more comfortable in the active participatory role than myself to ease the awkwardness that was inherent in me.
Other than flashbacks of childhood theatre outings, there was a second, more pressing reason for my awkwardness. Having previously attended Boomtown Festival in the year when a revolution was staged with actors looking like steampunk Antifa members, I was worried of the co-option of protest tactics and aesthetics for theatres sake. However, these fears were soon eased as there was no smatter of the escapist substance lacking nature that featured heavily in Boomtown’s “revolutionary” chapter. Nor was it possible for any co-option as the events relayed were experienced first-hand by the piece’s creators, Mark and Marichka Marczyks.
Counting Sheep: Staging a Revolution takes you into Ukraine through Mark Marczyk’s eyes, who although of Ukrainian descent, was brought up and resides in Canada. Therefore, his understanding of Ukraine is mainly through his grandmother’s cooking, which is passed down tables for the protestors to taste. Mark’s lack of knowledge allows for his constant questioning of the protestors he involves himself in during the uprising in Kiev which centred around Maidan Square in 2014.
From the outset Mark, played by Michael Edwards, encourages participants to use their phones through out the performance. A complete shock to traditional theatre goers, but whilst we consider technology as a distraction from engaging in the theatre, it is a key component of contemporary protest. As it allows protestors to organise as well as tell to insure their own narratives are told in the face of a biased media which distorts footage and body counts in order to misrepresent an oppressed group.
There were points at which the piece, aware of Brexit-bound audience, forced you to feel guilt and fear around the prospect on a deeper level than most had bother to engage previously. As the EU flag poured down the raised seating, carried by audience and actors alike, flooding over our heads, a clip from a protestor at Maidan square stated: ‘if it’s not Europe it’s Russia’. Forcing a brutal realisation upon us as an audience, as observers, as protests. People have fought and died for the protection of the EU, whilst we are voluntarily leaving. It’s not the rise of price in Cadbury or European beers that scares me, it’s this. If not Europe, then what? The USA awaits or departure from the European trade market with breath that is bated.
Counting Sheep’s immersive played well with joy and distress, empowering its participants whilst remaining truthful and respectful to the real events. We were led through games, waltzes demonstrating the collective elation and strength possible through grass roots politics. We built barricades, experiencing the labour-intensive nature of protest and the comradery necessary. We were brought through the events of Maidan, from playfully following each other through a bridge of arms in wedding celebrations to solemnly following a funeral procession.
Chaos was orchestrated around us constantly as the palette and blocks changed the landscape and as platforms and gymnastic tools. Performers wielded drums, cellos, violins and played along to the Ukranian ethno-bass beats of Balaklava Blues – also a creation of Mark and Marichka Marczyks. The bass surges as the revolution roars and drops to melancholy strings instruments and vocals when the mood changes.
Every moment of Counting Sheep was a welcomed intrusion on the senses, one which sparked serious concern and the story of the Kiev Uprising from the un-platformed voices. Throughout the piece I clutched hold of the blue flag, wearing it proudly round my shoulders and reluctant to part with it. After the show’s end as we walked awestruck out of the theatre, I carefully draped the blue star-spangled material on an upright palette.
Words, Billie Walker – @queen.feta
Images, Counting Sheep Revolution