But since we do have to do it, why not be truthful about it, and why not admit that yes, yes, there’s something inside us that likes to kill. Some part of us. Why wouldn’t that be so? -Lemon, Aunt Dan & Lemon by Wallace Shawn
Aunt Dan & Lemon is a play about admitting who we really are.
Aunt Dan & Lemon is a story about admitting who you really are.
Aunt Dan & Lemon is a story about the cruelty in the world that we’d rather not acknowledge.
Aunt Dan & Lemon is a story about the formative experiences of a young girl named Lemon, who is exposed to an uncensored reality from a young age. Many of her adult opinions stem from the relationship she had with her mother’s estranged friend Aunt Dan, who presses Lemon’s mom to admit that we are mostly indifferent to the horrors of the world, and would rather other people do our dirty work. This clarity and and assertion shapes Lemon’s world view to be one that is startlingly bleak, exceptionally candid, cynical,and self-aware.
It’s a dark space, most movement we see is in the shadows. It is movement, rather than lighting, that directs our gaze. When people (there are people) speak, their faces are illuminated, harshly, so we can see every detail.
Time adheres to emotion. The fury or satisfaction of a character can direct time to speed up or slow down. Time is non-linear. It is largely at the whim of the recollection our our guide.
It’s hot, and damp, and sticky. It seems the air never has enough oxygen for everyone to breathe easily. This climate has the effect of excusing people from rushing from place to place. They take their time, but when they speak, it’s as though they only had a minute left to live.
The mood is one of trepidation. It’s also disorienting. At times funny, it is also charged and startling, and still.
Our world is a series of glimpses through keyholes, secret spaces that exist only after they’ve been recounted to us with startling candor.
At its lightest moments, the tone of this planet is deliberate. Staccato fury is punctuated by intended, uncomfortable beats and pregnant pause. Punishing, unforgiving and relentless are words that come to mind.
This is a private, insular world. There are knowledge classes as much as their are wealth classes, and we get to witness their intermingling. Shame isn’t attached to the overt fetishization of money, valor isn’t attached to its possession, and an opinion is as dangerous as a rope.
Within this world, there are strange rituals of social arrangement. They are liberal with little to no sense of decorum. The most naive inhabitants of this world paradoxically seem to possess the most couth. The system is a bit inverted in that we can expect to hear the most truth by those that seem to lack a sense of propriety. This becomes a pattern. In many, this world’s inhabitants are like us, but getting to the point where we can admit that is, frankly, the whole point of the play.
In this world, no one has power. That’s why everyone in this world is so angry. Sex holds more power than money. Cleverness might provide a path for an option outside of monotony. One might have the power to foist the responsibility for our well-being into another’s hands. Others have the power to disregard it.
Language is copious, but true. For the most part, people in this world are honest. If they are not, they are weak -and not because they intend to lie, but because they aren’t capable of seeing truth. In many ways, language here unfolds with singsong and callback, and is punctuated by an occasional crack of the whip -a statement that could knock the wind out of you. That’s when were allowed pause to digest.
One could say that this is a world in which nothing changes. It’s our eyes that gradually adjust to the dim light of this planet’s atmosphere. The inhabitants of this world haven’t changed. They’re quite self-assured monsters. We start with questions and end with questions. We start with condemnation and end up ashamed. We’re all complicit, of course.
Solution: Make a private space on the most public space of all, the NYC Subway.
The most talkative observers were on a stretch of the L train between the 1st Ave. & Grand St. stops. Most of the observers were looking to see who was responsible. The title of this post, “No Hashtag, No Nothing”, comes from the observations of one woman on the train who was absolutely baffled that there was no social media call to action. Many people had comments like this:
“Fashion week is getting weird.”
“Yeah that’s just how marketing is these days.”
“I wonder where the camera is.”
It’s a pretty prescient comment on the shift in expectation of an observer being goaded under the assumption that they are being observed.
Only one subway rider actually managed to touch our PRIVATE installation, but many came up to take photos and ‘grams. The most compelling conversation we had was with an MTA conductor who broke it down for us:
Theater is opaque. We take it in with our senses and analyze it with our brains but the clarity we achieve is when theater successfully appeals to our emotions.
As actors, or performers, or playwrites, how do we ensure that such an emotional connection is achieved -that this appeal is successfully made? Elinor Fuchs attempts to offer a rubric for such successes in her short essay Visits to a Small Planet, by posing a set of questions that a work must at the very least explore sufficiently. She calls these questions “a template for the critical imagination”.
Creating theater is the creation of “another world passing by in time and space”, and it is best to approach it as you would a world completely alien. What are the conditions, the climate, the currency, the commerce? Answering these questions, making them coherent, ultimately builds the character and strengthens their credibility, until the world they are emulating becomes a given. Moreover, it becomes a true emotional reflection the audience can observe. It is only then that actor and audience both can “be someone aroused to meaning”.
Response: The Empty Space
It could be argued that there has never been more opportunity for good theater. With the spread of cheap social currency and platforms from which to exchange it, it takes very little technical (and I mean that word only in terms of literal documentation) or monetary force in order to produce and distribute a piece of art.
Yet the theater suffers. Now, more than ever, bad theater is produced, prices are rising, and the public is complicit. At least, thats what Peter Brook argues in his book The Empty Space.
Part of this is due to technical constraints: rising production costs and shorter incubation periods, coupled with a tendency for audiences to be disappointed by entertainment that is increasingly elite in both pricetag and accessibility makes for stuff that is not only unmagical but deadly. But it is also due to the way the form has morphed, shifted and come to be accepted.
The directors, costume designers, set runners et al. all have something to do with this. Wildly experimental as well as completely indoctrinated interpretations of the same piece can bring a production to its knees, and the untrained worker is just as bad as the trained one if their approach is unenlightened. Context in any space is important, and Brook knows that theater without context is also deadly.
Incompetence is the vice, the condition and the tragedy of the world’s theater on any level.
Similarly, actors that have spent time, but not quality time, rehearsing a piece will deliver a deadly performance. Uninspired, inhibited, and baseless, the audience can feel their lack of conviction or truth. And, as Brooks emphasizes,
As an audience, we bear as much the brunt of the responsibility as those in and of the production. We go to the theater and claim that it is enjoyable when it is not, under the guise of it being, as Brook posits, an intellectual experience. And it’s true, as he says, that “it would be a sad day if the people went to theater out of duty.”
So how does theater regain its luster?
The critic plays a central role, in that he keeps everyone honest. His burden is heavy and he is reluctant to bear it, but he feels the responsibility bear down upon him and moves forward for the love of the craft.
[Theater] is, or would be, if truly practised, perhaps the hardest medium of all: it is merciless.
The artist, too, knows his burden. Theater is “appalling[ly] difficult.” It is an unforgiving medium where every mistake is observed and magnified. To say Brook’s outlook is grim would certainly be an understatement, but in the final chapter of his book “The Immediate Theater”, he does observe some modern successes and , while not offering a wholistic solution, still offers some insight on how to best fill ‘The Empty Space’.
It starts with an understanding (as stated earlier) of context, and also in breaking down the relationship between actor, subject and audience. Grasping the speed with which a production evolves, and knowing when to modify and evolve in certain arenas (don’t block a play without people, for instance, or don’t design costumes until you know how characters will move) also helps.
What is necessary is…clarity without rigidity.
Actors, for their part, will emerge into their type by revealing their limitations. Rehearsals are as much about shedding inhibitions as they are perfecting dynamic. Directing is as much about understanding as elasticity. The production is as much about compartmentalization as marriage.
“When the status quo is rotten -and few critics anywhere would dispute this- the only possibility is to judge events in relation to a possible goal.” -Brook
There’s a bit of irony here. The imagined standard by which the critic must judge is also the imagined standard by which an actor (or director, et al) must hold himself to as well. It’s abstract and yet, we know it when we see it.
To measure the exhibition on display at a/d/o last week against Hugh Dubberly, Paul Pangaro & Usman Haque’s definitions of interaction (as posited in their co-authored research paper What is interaction? Are there different types?) would be to measure the magnitudes of failure on behalf of theLondon School of Architechture students responsible for its existence.
What seemed as though it could have been a thought-provoking exploration of a shifting neighborhood demographic instead became a static fabrication that left little to the imagination and at least this attendee hoping for a larger emotional connection. Their documentation was also terrible.
The machine -effectively a glorified bicycle (which as a process from blueprint to working prototype within the span of ten days was the lone accolade anyone could offer the project) -collected (as opposed to collects because it is no longer in use nor was it built for longevity) samples of neighborhood “artifacts”, and then displayed them in a fabricated museum setting.
What the machine didn’t do was interact with anyone or thing in the environment from which it was collecting said artifacts. What appeared to be a valiant attempt to decipher gentrification and its myriad effects (some positive, mostly negative) was instead a myopic execution without mission or vision beyond its literal purpose.
Rather than focusing on the minutia of machinery -in this case their literal wheelhouse- I would have liked to see the students question the presence of their collected artifacts within the context of the neighborhood. Why are these artifacts so important? Why do we care to see them displayed? What do they represent and how could the answer to that question spark a conversation? The mission should have been more anthropology and less machinery. More connective and less observational. We should have got a conversation piece. Instead we got a non-starter.
ExerciseMake your own material – explore the “materiality” of substances.
I took two approaches to this assignment. One was to create a material from many other materials, that was more structural and geometric, and that might stay in place if executed successfully. The other was to focus on the material itself, and think about materials that are around us every day, that might not be considered materials or that might be used differently than the application I’m interested in.
I’ve recently acquired some triangular paperclips that, for whatever reason, I find to be so much more satisfying to use than regular paperclips.
Though I was really interested in making some sort of mesh out of them and then gluing them together with either hot glue or crazy glue, it quickly became clear to me that the triangles themselves were not cut precisely enough to allow for a smooth line beyond several clips in a row. For this reason, I abandoned the project early on.
Smoke & Mirrors
I have always been interested in the remnants left behind by materials -oils, smoke, fingerprints. I find them beautiful if not ephemeral, and tend to document them as well. For me, this was an obvious point of exploration for this week’s prompt.
The first law of Thermodynamics states that the energy in an isolated system can neither be created nor destroyed. Energy can only be transferred from one form to another.
Bearing in mind the first law of Thermodynamics (which, for existential/atheist reasons I find to be comforting) and thinking about what happens to elements when we burn them, I wanted to focus on using the “smudge” generated from burning different materials:
I attempted to capture the different smokes of different materials in a glass jar.
I then used whatever coating was left as a material to “erase” in order to make patterns/shapes.
Conclusion Though not an entirely satisfying end, I think further experimentation (different vessels/different materials) will yield different results. I look forward to working with more effective materials to burn and surfaces on which to glaze/coat them.
Further Exploration I also thought about how we can use different oils and the ways they bleed as a new material. Though a not entirely developed idea, it’s worth posting some photos here if not for anything else than their aesthetics: