the transformative power of live theater

Caryl Churchill

Caryl Lesley Churchill is a British playwright whose work has been associated with surrealist and postmodern theatre. She was born in London on September 3, 1938. Her family moved to Montreal after World War II, where Churchill matriculated at the Trafalgar School for Girls. In 1957, Churchill moved back to England to attend Oxford University, where she earned a B.A. in English Literature in 1960. During her time at Oxford, Churchill wrote four plays – DownstairsYou’ve No Need to be FrightenedHaving a Wonderful Time, and Easy Death – all of which were performed by Oxford student theater groups. In 1961, Churchill married David Harrister, with whom she has three sons.

Churchill started her post-college career writing radio and television dramas for the BBC. Her notable works from this era include The Ants (1962), Lovesick (1967) and Abortive(1971). In 1972, Churchill wrote her first stage play, Owners, which premiered at London’s Royal Court Theater. She became the resident dramatist there from 1974-1975. During the 1970s and 1980s, Churchill worked with numerous theater companies, including Joint Stock and Monstrous Regiment. She has won three Obie Awards for her plays Cloud Nine (1979), Top Girls (1982), and Serious Money (1987), and two Susan Smith Blackburn prizes for Fen (1984) and Serious Money. During the 1990s and 2000s, she continued to write plays and more experimental works such as Hotel (1997), a collaborative sung ballet set in a hotel room, and Love and Information (2012), an experimental collage of 100 characters performing over 50 short, fragmentary episodes.

Churchill’s drama is widely recognized for abandoning realist approaches to theater in favor of surrealist experimentation, postmodern exploration of language, and an emphasis on the sexual politics and legacies of feminism. She draws upon Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud’s experimental approaches to theater which consider plays to be a political art form with the power to transform false senses of reality. Churchill is associated with Socialist Theater and left wing critical responses to the policies of Margaret Thatcher. Churchill wrote Top Girls during Thatcher’s rule, and it explores the complicated relationship between capitalism and feminism. Churchill has translated and published a version of Seneca’s Thyestes, and an adaptation of August Strindberg’s A Dream Play.

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