CREATIVE AND PRODUCTION TEAM
Voice and Accents Coach
Associate Set Designer
Associate Lighting Designer
Isabella 'Iz' Zettl
Assistant Production Manager
Assistant Stage Manager
Emily Van Dyk
Workshop Head of Department
Leading Workshop Hand
Al Brill, Isabella Edwards
Deputy Head Electrician/Lighting Programmer and Operator
*Third year BFA (Design and Production) student
Morgan Jones, Ellen Sayers
Howard Clark, Karen Trott
M'ck McKeague, Richard Vabre
VCA Production Academic Staff
Anna Cordingley, Justin Green, Amanda Hitten, Lisa Mibus,
Lisa Osborn, Matt Scott, Dr Chris Wenn
French playwright Jean Genet’s ‘idea that colonial oppression and sexual oppression are similar’ (Amelia Howe Kritzer) formed the basis of Caryl Churchill’s conceptual duality in Cloud Nine. Inspired also by the seminal texts Sexual Politics by Kate Millet and Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks Churchill set off to dismantle the patriarchal systems of inequality and colonialism.
When reflecting on the predominate challenges within this text you need only look to the workshop process that inspired the writing of Cloud Nine to understand how they arose. Churchill wrote Cloud Nine in 1978 after a period of workshops with Joint Stock around the idea of Sexual Politics. We know from participant accounts of this workshop that actors were selected ‘as much for their sexual proclivities as for their acting ability’ (Mary Luckhurst). It was thoughtfully considered that there be a diverse array of sexual orientation within the cast to acknowledge the concept of sexual oppression. However…where was the diverse consideration for the human experience of the other significant concept…? Colonialism.
This erasure of race from the making process, and subsequent text must be questioned. Apollo Amoko asserts that ‘racism, the play's "other" concern’ is used as a mere metaphoric vehicle to ‘illustrates sexism, the play's "central" or "ideal" concern’.
I wish to acknowledge that the form, structure and contextual underpinning of this play are cemented in binary. Act One and Two are foils of one another, the casting requirements are oppositional and the play attempts to navigate ideas of colonialism and sexual oppression as two of the same.
We understand that the world is a spectrum. A spectrum of gender, sexuality, neuro, ability.
A spectrum of diversity, where nothing and no one is simply; this or that.
This play has endless dramaturgical and social questions. Many of which we have asked. Many of which we are not equipped to answer. It is my hope that these remarkable twenty-first-century actors bring to light that while in some respects we have outgrown the past, there are still those among us who continue these battles every day.
- Abby Hampton, Master of Theatre (Dramaturgy) student, Victorian College of the Arts
The first thing that struck me about Cloud 9 was the absence of people of colour in Act 2. I have not reconciled this. Secondly, what is the Australian context of this piece and how does the invisibility of First Nations people in our production read? How may we bring both these elements into this production? We have a play about white colonial oppressive patriarchy, displacement and longing. How do we frame this in an Australian context? If this had not been a student production, some of these issues could have been explored by the casting of the play. What would casting a First Nation’s woman as Clive, or a person of colour to play Gerry layer into the play? Did Churchill remove people of colour from Act 2 to reflect how this family sees humanity? Unless they need “help” the POC do not exist? As this production is a learning tool for the students, these solutions are redundant, but worth consideration.
Churchill asks for the character of Joshua, an African man of colour, to be played by a white man. Was Churchill working from a trauma informed practice? If I, a woman of colour was to play Joshua, the rage and pain I would sit with would be monumental. When I read Joshua, I feel his colonisation, oppression, silencing, and invisibility, and I want to RAGE against it all.
For our thoughtful student who is playing Joshua, the struggle for him is a different one. How does he honour Joshua? How does he embody an oppressed man of colour respectfully and with dignity? Who gives him permission to explore this character and tell this man’s story, when he himself comes from a place of perceived privilege? What layering does a body that represents a history of colonial white patriarchy bring to this character?
We placed Joshua in the space more than the play dictates. He is the observer and the protector. This choice resonates strongly for me in the Australian context. The BIPOC community are often in spaces feeling invisible, observing, finding the strength to speak out, while having the responsibility of keeping community safe.
For the actors who are people of colour, we were interested to see how their bodies read in the play. Did we need to highlight this? Does the fact that they are playing Betty and Edward in Act 2 layer the white colonial experience?
I began with questions, and many of them are still unresolved. Now that we are running the play, I am excited to continue the exploration, with an audience.
- Georgina Naidu, Lecturer in Acting, Victorian College of the Arts
Cloud Nine is the play that brought Caryl Churchill to the attention of the world when it was produced in London in 1979 and then in New York. Her use of cross-gender casting, cross-racial casting and non-naturalistic time frames drew attention to power relationships between men and women, how much and how little had changed since the Victorian colonial age. I saw Cloud Nine in 1981 in Perth, at The Hole in The Wall theatre, and back then it was thrilling for its politics, its humour, its Feminist perspective and its sympathetic portrayals of Gay and Lesbian people. 40 years later, however, the play presents some knotty dramaturgical challenges. Current discourses around race, decolonisation and intersectional feminism cast a different light on the use of the colonization of Africa as a metaphor for the Patriarchy’s foundational ‘othering’ of women. Commentators, including Dimple Godiwala, criticise the play for its erasure of the black body and centring of the ‘white’ experience:
“Cloud Nine, for all its revolutionary fervour in the domain of feminist subversion and Western sexual liberation, remains an imperial narrative as it enacts a progress achieved by a ‘civilization’ which is not merely white but also English.”
As well, queer commentators have pointed to the ways in which the cross-gender casting results in the enactment of homosexual desire by heteronormative pairings. For me it is extremely important that homosexual desire – as one of the main subjects of the play – is enacted and legible in our production. As Jill Dolan says: “unlike race and gender, sexuality must be seen to be known, must be performed to be read. Because the signs of sexuality are inherently performative, the assumption of heterosexuality prevails unless homosexual or lesbian practice is made textual.”
The other challenges we face are related to the COVID pandemic. Apart from the interruptions to our production schedule caused by the lockdown, our enactment is circumscribed by the restrictions in place. The problems of how to stage intimacy within the current restrictions has required some ingenuity.
The team of artists assembled here, students and professionals, represent the diversity of our theatre profession. Each has worked with enormous talent, energy, commitment and good will to develop a show that will be experienced by a very small audience. Is it still worth it to make theatre for a live audience? I think the live experience of performance can be transformative. I have loved rehearsing this piece, wrestling with its problems with this team. I thank each person who has worked on the show for their contribution to the performance you are about to see. For me it has been an exhilarating, difficult, and immensely rewarding experience. I hope you enjoy our Cloud Nine.
- Maude Davey, Director
Dolan, J. (1989). Breaking the Code: Musings on Lesbian Sexuality and the Performer. Modern Drama, 32(1), 146-158. doi:10.3138/md.32.1.12
Godiwala, D. (2004). 'The performativity of the dramatic text': domestic colonialism and Caryl Churchill's Cloud Nine. Studies in theatre and performance, 24(1), 5-21. doi:10.1386/stap.24.1.5/0