Honestly, I struggled with this assignment, and I don’t feel that my Cornell box reflects my emotional response to Aunt Dan and Lemon in a meaningful way. I tried to develop a coherent concept from the objects that I found, but I think that if I were to do this assignment again, I would approach it from the other way around - start with a concept and then try to find objects that fit.
What is space like? The space in Aunt Dan and Lemon is ephemeral. Scenes and figures emerge from and fade into the darkness as Lemon guides the audience through her memories. The play begins and ends in Lemon’s flat in London, and there are memories which take place in Oxford and the English countryside, but you could say that the space of the play is really the interior of Lemon’s mind.
What is time like? Time moves back and forth, jumping across many years at a time from one memory to the next. At some points, such as when Aunt Dan is telling a young Lemon stories about her university days at Oxford, time becomes nested, moving further into the past of Aunt Dan’s story, and then returning to the more recent past of Lemon’s memory. Strictly speaking, all of the scenes in the play take place sometime between the 1940s/1950s and the 1980s.
What is the climate like? The season and the weather varies a lot from memory to memory. In Lemon’s recollections of her childhood home, it is summer, and the air is “sticky and hot.” Later, in her mother’s memory of meeting Aunt Dan at Oxford, it is winter, and the light is gray and dim.
What is the mood? What is the tone? The mood of the play, going by its subject matter and themes, is serious. It explores the ways in which people justify violence and killing. The tone of the play is at times soft and reflective (“The light from the window - the purplish light of the dusk - would fall across her face.”), at others passionate and romantic (“…whose lipstick was the dreamiest, loveliest shade of rose”), at others violent (“And then these filthy, slimy worms, the little journalists, come along…”).
What is the pattern of sound? The play makes frequent use of long silences to punctuate monologues or conversation. “(Lemon drinks. A long silence.)“ “(The garden. A silence before Aunt Dan speaks.)“ “(After a long pause.)“ “(Aunt Dan is silent.)“
Is this a public world, or private? What are its class rules? This world is private and insular. Most of the characters (with the possible exception of Mindy) are middle/upper class British people and Americans.
In what patterns do figures arrange themselves? Lemon, as narrator, is presented in isolation. Aunt Dan is often paired with another character, either Lemon or her mother. In Aunt Dan’s memories of Oxford, the action revolves around Mindy, and all the other characters surround her.
How do figures appear? Most of the characters are presented in an exaggerated manner. Lemon’s mother and father are almost caricatures, as are Aunt Dan’s friends from Oxford. Aunt Dan and Lemon are, unsurprisingly, the most three-dimensional figures in the play.
How do figures dress? As far as I can tell, the characters’ clothing isn’t discussed very often, if at all. My guess would be they’re dressing in period-appropriate attire.
How do figures interact? Lemon, as the narrator, doesn’t interact directly with any of the other characters. Aunt Dan and the young Lemon’s interactions mostly consist of Aunt Dan telling Lemon stories about her life. Aunt Dan picks a fight with Lemon’s mother over whether the Vietnam War is justified, although Lemon’s mother tries to have a reasonable discussion. Lemon’s father berates Lemon’s mother for Lemon’s eating disorder.
Who has power on this planet? Lemon’s worldview is shaped by Aunt Dan’s stories and political ideologies, so you could say that Aunt Dan has power over Lemon as a sort of twisted mentor figure. It’s never really made clear why Aunt Dan chooses to have this relationship with Lemon, although late in the play, Lemon suggests that there might be an unspoken sexual attraction between the two of them.
What are the language habits? Lemon’s language is mostly a language of thoughts, logical, detached, and deliberate. “In other words, it was unpleasant to watch that pitiful roach scuttling around on my floor dying, but I can’t say that I really felt sad about it.” Aunt Dan’s language, by comparison, is emotional and passionate. “I mean, Lemon, you know, that Transfigured Night could just make you squeal, it’s just as if Arnold Schoenberg was inside your dress and running his hands over your entire body.”
- First image: “London. A dark room. A woman named Lemon, born in 1960. She sits in an armchair, weak and sick.“
- Last image: “The dark room, as at the beginning of the play.“
- Central image: Aunt Dan and Lemon’s mother in the garden, arguing about Kissinger and the Vietnam War.
- Why was it essential to move through the central image to get from the first to the last? The play begins and ends in the same scene, with Lemon explaining why she enjoys reading about the Nazis, that she believes compassion doesn’t really exist and that “polite” society is dependent on killing. The action of the play shows us where Lemon’s worldview comes from, how she internalized Aunt Dan’s beliefs about the necessity of violence.
What changes in the landscape? The setting moves from the inside of Lemon’s apartment in London, to Lemon’s childhood home, then to Andy’s flat in Oxford, then to Morley’s night club, then to Mindy’s apartment, then back to Lemon’s childhood home, then to Aunt Dan’s apartment, then finally back to Lemon’s apartment.
What changes in time? Time begins at the present, moves into the past of Lemon’s childhood, then moves further into the past of Aunt Dan’s memories, then returns to Lemon’s childhood, and finally returns to the present.
What changes in the action? The action of the play doesn’t really fit any of the progressions that Fuchs describes. The play begins and ends with the same scene, with Lemon unchanged as a character. The difference is that the audience now understands her better.
What doesn’t change? The adult Lemon, the narrator, is a fixed point throughout the play.
Aunt Dan and Lemon asks the audience to reflect on how fascist ideas are passed down from generation to generation, and to acknowledge that fascism still exists in our society today. The play makes this intention known by showing a natural progression from Aunt Dan’s idealization of Henry Kissinger to Lemon’s monologue about admiring the honesty of the Nazis and the necessity of killing.
Aunt Dan and Lemon is about the allure of fascism.
Aunt Dan and Lemon is about how fascist ideology can be passed down from generation to generation, even among people in our society who seem to be no different from us.
Aunt Dan and Lemon is about a British woman named Lemon with a difficult childhood who grows up idealizing her “Aunt” Dan, an American friend of her parents. Aunt Dan worships Henry Kissinger, defends U.S. military policy in the Vietnam War, and tells a young Lemon violent and sexually explicit stories about her wild youth at Oxford. As an adult, Lemon internalizes Aunt Dan’s worldview and becomes a fascist apologist, believing that compassion is a lie and admiring the “honesty” of the Nazis and killers in general.
Chris Crawford defines interaction as “a cyclic process in which two actors alternatively listen, think, and speak.” I think that that definition works well for physical interaction, except that I’d replace the terms “listen” and “speak” with “sense” and “respond”, respectively. Although Crawford uses “listen” and “speak” metaphorically, I think that “sense” and “respond” are a little clearer because they suggest a wide variety of inputs and outputs that translate physical phenomena into analog/digital electical signals and vice versa.
Some examples of physical sensing and responding:
- Distance (Ultrasound)
I think that Crawford’s thoughts about “high” vs. “low” interactivity are on point here. It’s not enough to just listen, think, and respond - each step has to be done well. Good physical interaction requires a work or piece of technology to:
- Sense accurately
- Process what it senses in an interesting or non-trivial way
- Respond in a way that is comprehensible and communicates meaning
Bret Victor’s comments about moving beyond visual interfaces are also relevant here. Good physical interaction should try to use other human senses as well, such as texture, temperature, hearing, etc. Good physical interaction should be, well, physical.
One of my favorite works that involves digital technology that would not be considered interactive is Julien Maire’s Digit, a performance piece that makes use of tiny, hidden printers to create the illusion that the artist is producing printed text simply by sliding his finger across a piece of paper. The printer system isn’t really interactive according to the definition above; it’s more of a tool that translates the artist’s movement into text.
Jürg Lehni’s drawing machines (and most drawing machines in general) are also examples of non-interactive digital technology. They translate images or text into physical motion - communication is one-way from human to machine.
Peter Brook’s main point in “The Deadly Theatre” is that theatre becomes stale and boring as a result of repetition, of leaning too heavily on tradition and outdated conventions. In order to create work that is relevant, directors, actors, composers, and designers must continuously ask themselves fundamental questions: why is a particular work being performed, what is the intention that they are trying to communicate with their artistic decisions, why even work within the medium of theatre in the first place?
I think that we as new media artists, interaction designers, creative technologists, or whatever you want to call it, also need to ask ourselves these kinds of questions about our work. “What function can it have? What could it serve? What could it explore? What are its special properties?”
In “The Immediate Theatre”, Brook argues that a designer who works in the context of live performance should continuously work with directors and performers to update their designs as the staging and direction of the performance evolves. Set and prop designs constrain the possibilities for staging and direction, so designers must always be ready to revise their work as the needs of a performance change during rehearsal.
I found Brook’s thoughts on improvision in this chapter interesting - the idea that training in improvision is intended to allow performers to avoid falling back on clichés in moments of uncertainty, to push performers towards “something unexpected but true.”
I also like the idea of theatre as a means for an audience to “see more clearly into itself”, that a great performance can leave “a mark of its catharsis.”
In Visits to a Small Planet, Elinor Fuchs asks us to assume that everything in a play is intentional, and to ask questions accordingly. What is the physical world of the play like? What is the social structure? How does this world change over time? Who are the characters and how do they relate to this world? What is being asked of the audience?
As designers, how can the visuals, sets, and props that we create answer these questions? In particular, since we spend a lot of time thinking about interaction design at ITP, how can interactions between performers, the audience, and the set answer these questions?