Full disclosure: I love immersive theatre and audience participation. And it was no surprise to me that I thoroughly enjoyed Lemon Bucket Orkestra’s dinner theatre-esque “Ukrainian folk opera,” Counting Sheep, the Production-in-Residence at this year’s SummerWorks Festival. Audience members are thrown head-on into creators Mark and Marichka Marczyk’s emotional recounting of their experiences supporting protesters in the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.
First, a disclaimer: as a person who has minimal knowledge of the events recounted in the play, I cannot and will not speak to the political views of the show. However, attendees should note that the piece is sympathetic to the protesters.
The show is separated into 18 chapters. Each chapter features its own song and is either about a particular aspect of the protester community or a significant event during the revolution. Real news footage from the revolution is shown throughout the show. All the songs are sung in Ukrainian. There is food (more if you have floor seats). And a lot of dancing.
It soon dawned on us that we were going to be joining most of the cast as fellow protesters. When there were clips showing Ukrainian protesters eating, we ate. When we saw the Ukrainian protesters partying on the street to keep their spirits up, the cast would come along and invite (ok, teach) us to dance. When the protest took a violent turn, we were asked to build barricades out of papier-mâché bricks. Although I had floor seats, balcony patrons were later invited onto the floor so all ticket holders should be prepared to participate.
There were also many ingenious uses of props, set, and lighting. A bulldozer used by protesters to push back riot police was quite realistically recreated by the cast with only their instruments and a shovel. The tables doubled as wreckage and had removable pieces that turned into protester shields and signs.
The only time we were kept out of the action was during parts involving police brutality. I found it significant that, while the police were first seen as the aggressors, the protesters also partook in their fair share of violence and destruction.
We were thanked at the end for being willing to see a show “with no words,” but that is not entirely true. There are plenty of words in the news footage and, even if you don’t understand Ukrainian, the evocative melody of the songs in the show prove that music is a universal language. In fact, from the footage we were shown, it looked like the spirit of the revolution was kept up through music, making it a perfect story for a band like Lemon Bucket Orkestra to tell. Even in the midst of a dangerous protest, people brought their instruments, their voices, and their dancing shoes.
As I reflect on recent headlines that are a little closer to home, I wonder if the events in Counting Sheep will soon transform from memories into predictions. Even though you cannot ignore its topical inspiration, the show also stands on its own as a mediation on the cost of political change and the importance of community. While nothing can truly replicate the dangerous conditions during real life protests, it is amazing what Counting Sheep managed to cultivate between me and my fellow protesters in just two hours.
- Wednesday August 12th 8:00 PM
- Thursday August 13th 8:00 PM
- Friday August 14th 7:00 PM
- Saturday August 15th 2:00 PM
- Sunday August 16th 4:00 PM
Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Live Art Series tickets are free – $20. Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, by phone at 888-328-8384, Monday – Friday 8:30am-5pm, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St). Open August 4-16 from 10am-7pm (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee).
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
This show contains theatrical smoke and loud noises. There is also heavy audience participation.
Photo provided by the company.