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Jayme Koszyn discusses sex and breaking boxes in Cloud Nine


An interview with the director of MIT Dramashop's Cloud Nine.


CLOUD NINE IS DIRECTED by Jayme Koszyn, who works locally in Boston and has worked in Washington, DC, and in New York City. She is currently employed as a Literary Associate at the Huntington Theater Company, responsible for the research and written materials provided to artists working at the theater.

Who is Caryl Churchill [the author of Cloud Nine]?

She's considered one of the foremost women playwrights in Britain. One of the most interesting things is the way she works, and the way in which Cloud Nine was created. She helped found, or is one of the leaders of, a theater company called the Joint Stock Company. The way that the company works is that they will come up with an idea that they find fascinating, and then the actors will go out into the community and work in the world of that idea that they're creating. Churchill takes all the actors' material and for a period of time she structures the play, shapes it, and then writes the play. For Cloud Nine, the Joint Stock Company, Churchill, and the director got together and they decided to explore the ideas - especially personal and subjective ideas -that the actors had about sexuality, gender, and the relationship between sexual oppression and colonial oppression.

Can you describe the characters a little? It seems it's a very character oriented play.

It's a very political play. And it's a very personal play. The play has very needy yearning, hurting characters. Every single one of them is in bad shape. The reason they're in bad shape is that there is the tension between a kind of box that everyone operates in, a way that everyone is supposed to behave. You're the "good daughter," you're the "doting wife," you're the "slave," you're the "master," you're "straight," and everyone tries to operate within these very strict parameters. What Churchill has done is put these people in boxes in the strongest societal box of all, Victorian England, and the struggle and central conflict of the play is between the true selves of these people, trying to break through- the box. That struggle is very violent in some respects.

You have the son, Edward, who wants to be a girl, and is actually played by a girl, constantly fighting between trying to be a good little master's son and wanting to make love to Uncle Harry. Betty, who is supposed to be a kind of canine creature for her husband and do everything he says and do everything her mother says, has unbelievably potent sexual passions. [There are only two people], Maud, the mother of them all - who represents, I suppose, Queen Victoria - and Clive, the white, upperclass British male, whose true selves are their boxes. So, in a sense, they're the most frightening characters of all.

The way this translates into Act Two [where the setting changes to contemporary England] is that although society seems to be less box-like, the characters have traded one box for another. There is a gay relationship in Act Two, which there could never have been in Act One. Yet their relationship is so characterized by the principles of dominance and submission - just like a stereotypical heterosexual relationship, where one is playing the wife and one is playing the husband - that they operate within Chinese boxes, hopping from one to another.

How much do you think these "boxes" are the creation of other people, their expectations, and how much do you think it's an attempt to achieve any self identity?

I think that people are mainly put into boxes by other box people. Clive actually says that boys aren't supposed to have feelings. But I think what happens is (this is what is so scary about Act Two) that even when you no longer have a master-slave construct, even when you have Victoria and Line, who are completely different classes - not only are they women, but they're lovers, they traverse class lines and straight-homosexual lines - the boxes become internalized.

The way the box activities were initiated is you are put into the box by your parents. The theme of parents and children in this play is extremely significant. Not only the relationship between parents and children, but how children then duplicate their parents' boxing them.... It's especially a big theme in Act Two, because it's all about parents and children, and even metaphoric parents and children. ... Once you get out of the box, life is very scary. What happens in Act One is that when people are behaving the way they're supposed to behave, everything is very funny and interesting and quirky and campy. But then as soon as people start revealing their true selves, things get darker. Facing the true self is not easy.

I think that the notion of the "cloud" - the reason that the play has the title that it does - is that, at least in Victorian England, the structures of the box are very clear. It's a very bleak vision, even though the play is a comedy, and is very funny. In Act Two there's a sense of limbo, of this cloudness - for example, no one knows how to characterize the role of women. Women have been trained now to have careers, and that they're not fulfilled and that they have to feel guilty if they stay at home and raise children. There's a sense of limbo, like "wasn't it easier when you just followed your man where he moved, and you always did a certain thing and acted a certain way."

How has it been, working at MIT? What do you think is special about students, as opposed to professional actors?

Directorially, it's a completely different experience. The focus has to be different, because when I'm directing professional actors, who are [constantly working] on their craft, I depend a lot on the actors making their choices, and then. working with their ideas. With students, it's more of a collaboration. I give more guidance than I would with a professional actor. What I love about working with students is that they have so much energy. They have so much enthusiasm. I think those two words are the key to a successful rehearsal atmosphere.

(Aaron McPherson `89 served as IAP campus arts coordinator for the MIT Office of the Arts, which arranged this interview.)