From the Creators - Mark and Marichka Marczyk
When we created and first mounted Counting Sheep four years ago, it was important to us to recreate the feeling of what it was like to be on Maidan. The protests had suddenly escalated into the annexation of Crimea and the Donbas War, while the international media started to shift their focus to other conflicts. After spending some time at the front, where people constantly remembered, referenced, and reflected on Maidan, we decided to do the same
We wanted people to feel Maidan from the inside, to show what ordinary people decided to go to war for - what the news didn’t show. The hero of the show was Maidan— the people and movement as a whole rather than individual characters.
When we first met with Natalia and Nikolai from Belarus Free Theatre, and started our collaboration, they asked us to mould our reflections from plasticine on large white pieces of paper— an exercise they often employ when trying to tease out material from hesitant/inexperienced collaborators in the preliminary stages of creating a show. We felt so immediately and completely comfortable with these two incredible beings that we poured out everything we had suppressed for the past four years. Why was that? It probably had something to do with that certain eye glaze that people who have undergone brutal political trauma and unfathomable expressions of humanity have…needless to say, the next day, we skipped the plasticine exercise.
After sharing the general feeling of protest for four years across the globe (and garnering much critical acclaim and awards for it), we decided to attempt to unmask the face of the Revolution of Dignity— its concrete features and emotions, the specific experiences of people who have “that certain eye glaze.” There are many of these people and stories, of which ours is one. We left the unmoulded blue bricks on the clean white sheets and decided to start telling it.
When we write music it’s most often based on personal experience and is meant to tell a story— about the news of police brutality interrupting dinner, about filling bags with ice and snow in fishnets and high heels, about insomnia while keeping barricades burning for three days and nights, about wrapping the body of a loved one in sleeping bags and flags. Unlike previous iterations of the show we really created the music in tandem with specific gestures or actions on stage, which were refined by BFT and all the actors on the basis of our experience. Every night we invite audiences to participate in that action but hope that even if they don’t, they can find themselves or the ones they love in the music.
We didn’t only want to tell our story, but to place it in the context of the many stories and voices that were on Maidan. We didn’t have to dig very deep here (rather we had already done most of the digging)— traditional Ukrainian polyphony (which happens to be Marichka’s life long passion and commitment as an ethnomusicologist) expresses this plurality perfectly. Just as on Maidan, the voices of Traditional Ukrainian song can be dissonant just as often as they are in perfect harmony; sometimes words are shouted in unison and other times you can barely make anything out— it’s just cacophony. This vocal tradition of Ukraine has existed and evolved for over a thousand years; it is today’s Ukraine too.
Today’s Ukraine is hardly only ‘traditional’, as became evident throughout the EURO-Maidan protests, and we’ve tried to give voice to other more contemporary musical forms too— from EDM to neo-classical, samba to tango, indie to folk. What’s interesting is that we love all these forms of music just as Ukrainians love all these forms of music, and in being honest about the diversity of our musical taste, we managed to get much closer to the heart of our story. For this we are truly thankful to our directors from BFT who pushed us to reach further into every single composition, and refused to accept superficial beauty or easy stereotypical motifs if there was a deeper truth to be told.
During our intense rehearsal process, Nikolai came up with an unofficial tagline for Counting Sheep— Madness and Courage. It’s true— it takes a lot of madness and courage to protest anything, never mind following it through revolution and war. It also takes a lot of madness and courage to recreate that initial and on-going surge on stage for an audience. Over and over again.
The thing is this story is ours by chance or by destiny, depending on how you look at it, both of which are valid and important. But for the actors, the directors, the producers and crew, and everyone who has been involved in previous iterations of the show— it is theirs by choice. They chose to make this story theirs, as have all who participate every single night we stage the revolution.
That gives us hope. Not only in terms of our own troubled country and culture but also in a larger global sense, because every time we imagine and stage a revolution with a new group of strangers, it restores our belief that the extent of our empathy is limitless and anything is possible.
That is what it felt like to be on Maidan. And it’s why we do it over and over every night—because if we can all allow ourselves to feel that, then no matter what the obstacle, protest, revolution, or war— it won’t matter— because we’ve already won.