‘Cloud 9’ explores sexual perspectives on stage

Shauna Carter

Sexuality, identity and family — the School of Theatre and Dance will explore these topics and more with their production of “Cloud 9,” premiering at 8 p.m.

Eric van Baars, director of “Cloud 9,” said the play, penned by Caryl Churchill, encourages reflection on the different aspects people face with individuality. He added that the play was ahead of its time in the 1980s.

“The play is about our individual identity and how we are seen by others,” van Baars said. “It is about gender identity and sexual liberation, what it really means to be a man, a woman or child, the limitations and responsibilities we put on different roles. It looks at those different roles and it shakes it up.”

The play uses cross-gender casting and minorities to shake up roles. This involves casting men for female characters, women for male characters and a white actor for a black role. There are also homosexual characters in the play.

A reason for picking “Cloud 9” was to compare perceptions of the play today as opposed to when it was first produced, van Baars said.

“It’s a 30-year-old play, “ he said. “We wanted to hold it up to the time capsule and see how it registers today. When it first came out, it was very avant-garde and shocking. I think the world has changed a lot, so I wanted to see what it says in 2010.”

Kathleen Kovarik, the costume designer for “Cloud 9,” said Churchill uses a time period change with scenes but keeps characters in the same mindset to stress the dramatic ideas in each period.

“Caryl Churchill deliberately messes with how we perceive gender,” Kovarik said. “She sets the first and second act in different time periods to emphasize how much our perceptions change depending on society and context.”

Kovarik said the play posed an interesting challenge when costuming because of a time shift between the two acts.

“Costuming ‘Cloud 9’ is almost like costuming two different plays. The acts are so different that each requires a different approach,” she said. “The first act highlights the 1880s Victorian style. In the second act, the Victorian ideals have nearly vanished. For costumes, this means the color palette moves into 1980s rainbow bright. The characters become more real than they were in the first act. They no longer look like a portrait of perfection.”

Connie Hecker, the set designer, said the design came from Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland because it represented the play’s ambiguity so well.

“(Vigeland’s) work reflects real people of all sizes, shapes and ages that are often interwoven,” Hecker said. “Since the play has characters who struggle with understanding who they are and roles change in such diverse ways, I wanted a floor that would provide a variety of looks.”

Christian Prentice, a senior theater studies major, plays opposing roles in the two acts. In Act 1, he plays Harry Bagley, an explorer who struggles with homosexuality and pedophilia. In Act 2, Prentice plays Martin, a heterosexual who struggles with his marriage.

“Every single person in this play acts like something they are not because they are scared to be who they really are,” Prentice said. “Once they all start being who they are, it hurts people, but they all find happiness that they had been degrading.”

Kovarik said the play brings many interpretations people should embrace.

“There are so many ways to interpret the script and many ways to read the message that Churchill wrote,” Kovarik said. “Students should go just to see how they react.”