INTERVIEW: Counting Sheep at the VAULT Festival: Genuinely Interactive

Most shows at the VAULT Festival only run for five days, but a select few have longer runs including this year’s feature show Counting Sheep. Based on the Kiev uprising in 2014, audience members restage the revolution in a thrilling show designed by people who were there and by the Free Theatre of Belarus. The Reviews Hub caught up with creator and revolutionary Mark Marczyk as the festival enters its sixth week.

Mark became a revolutionary by accident. He is Canadian and was visiting Ukraine in 2014 for his job, but within a few hours of arriving in Kiev he was thrown into the uprising. The unrest was triggered when the Ukrainian Government suddenly switched allegiance from Europe to Russia. In protest, people took to the streets and built barricades against the riot police sent out to quell the rebellion.

While he was manning the barricades, Mark met Marichka and an unlikely romance blossomed as Kiev burned. Counting Sheep tells the stories of this relationship and the rebellion simultaneously, and it’s hard to imagine one narrative without the other. However, when this show was first presented in Edinburgh, it was quite different. Mark and Marichka, who are now married, thought that their romance obscured the real story about the brutality of the Ukrainian Government and so, in this early iteration of the show, they told the story of the uprising through traditional Ukrainian music.

When they began working with The Free Theatre of Belarus (FTB) for the VAULT Festival, the show went through many changes. Dialogue was added, and the FTB convinced Mark and Marichka that their story was vital to the show. In an echo of the Second Wave Feminism slogan, they realised that ‘The Personal is Political’, and sought to place themselves within the account of the uprising. By being specific about their story, it allowed other people access to the bigger narrative.

What has remained the same in the new version of Counting Sheep is the performance space, which represents Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central square in Kiev that saw most of the fighting and violence in 2014, and where over 100 people, mostly civilians, were killed. With guidance from the actors, the audience is responsible for turning the square into a battle zone. Barricades are constructed from tables and sandbags, flags are unfurled, and fires are built.

Two weeks ago, Mark and Marichka took the two leads from Counting Sheep to Kiev for the first time, and gave them a tour of the key sites of the uprising. Mark is keen to point out that the show is based on real events, and the trip to Ukraine underlined this for the actors. It may sound as if the show is very serious, but there are also many moments of joy. One minute you will be dancing and the next you will be throwing missiles. But Mark, along with the FTB and choreographer Bridget Fiske, wanted to demonstrate how quickly the uprising’s celebratory moments turned into moments of conflict. That, Mark says, is what it’s like in a real revolution.

There are two tiers of tickets available for the show: protestor and observer. Even if you attend as a protestor it doesn’t mean that you have to get your hands dirty. Mark says that every night is different, as sometimes the protestors will work in unison, while on other nights the audience will seem more reluctant to get involved. There will always be bystanders, but there is a responsibility to get involved in a theatrical sense too, otherwise the show won’t move forward. As a protestor, scenes change so quickly that you don’t always know what is going on, but positioned as an observer will give you more clarity.

After the show on Fridays and Saturdays, Mark and Marichka are doing their own show, Balaclava Blues, where they perform songs with their band. Mark says that here the music is more up-tempo than the music they play in Counting Sheep, and that with lights and videos it resembles an Eastern Ukrainian rave. You’ll never want the revolution to end!

Read The Reviews Hub five-star review here.

Counting Sheep and the VAULT Festival run to 17 March 2019 | Richard Maguire | Image: Oliver King

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The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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