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Caryl Churchill was born in London in 1938. As the daughter of a cartoonist and a film actress, Churchill had early exposure to and an affinity for art. Churchill began with short stories and moved to playwriting in college. Her first plays were produced at Oxford, from which she graduated, with a Bachelor of Arts in English, in 1957.
In her post-college years, Churchill, a long-time Socialist, began to explore another then-radical political stance, feminism. However, not until the mid- 1970's did Churchill allow her political leanings to become the focus of her work. In Objections to Sex and Violence (1975), Churchill introduced themes of sexual repression and femininity, ideas that reappear in full force in Cloud 9 (1979). As her plays began to probe sensitive areas of sexual politics, Churchill's writing style evolved toward a less linear, more avant- garde form. She experimented with time manipulation, cross-gender casting, and different concepts for costuming and staging.
In 1976, Churchill partnered with the Joint Stock Company for the first time with Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. With Joint Stock, Churchill worked on a process of writing plays out of discussions and improvisations with actors and directors. In this approach, actors, director, and writer would first spend several weeks rehearsing without a script. Then, Churchill would spend time alone writing from her experiences in the workshop before coming back to the company with a script. Churchill applied this process to her second collaboration with Joint Stock, Cloud 9.
Churchill's approach to Cloud nine was not strictly feminist. She began with the more general concept of sexual repression and how any person can feel its effects. For her settings, Churchill selected two different repressive periods in British history. The first act takes place in Africa, roughly during the 1870's during the British Victorian era (Churchill deliberately avoids giving the audience any specific dates). During this time period, British colonialism was still in full swing. Churchill uses the notion of Britain's responsibility to civilize colonial cultures as a backdrop for Act II, which takes place in London around 1979. By this time period, British colonialism had all but completely deflated, but other forms of repression remained.
1979 marked a unique period of sexual revolution in London, a period distinct from the Victorian era in many ways. Gay men, though far from completely welcome, had established a presence in the cultural landscape of British society. Divorce had become acceptable, and women had gained new freedoms and greater status. In some sense, Churchill tosses the characters from Act I into this new arena to see how they might react.
Churchill's actor-based approach to writing Cloud 9 resulted in a piece very much centered around bodies and actors in space. Audiences are forced to recognize that men play women, women play men, and adults play children. The exercises used by the Joint Stock Company to create the basis for the text are designed to present the writer with different ideas of status and of how the actors might work best together in a scripted work. These influences are highly evident in Cloud 9.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Cloud 9!