Performing Performing: The Stage as Cultural Palimpsest in Alladeen

By Terry Donovan Smith.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

United States theatre often lags in innovation due to its dependence upon popular acceptance and consequent parochial focus. This essay explores a performance that transcends these limitations, Alladeen, a recent production by New York's "The Builders Association" in collaboration with London's "motiroti." Alladeen employs multi-media performance and the metatext of Aladdin to stage the lives of Indian operators at international call centers: drawing parallels between the third-world desire for Western consumer culture and the wish-fulfillment myth of the Magical Lamp. Training at these centers erases linguistic markers of "Indian-ness," substituting American vocal patterns to better insinuate the caller into the confidence of the unwitting client. Realities of body, culture, history, and social networks become loci of ambivalent cultural performance. Thus, Alladeen performs performing: staging a simulacrum of a lived simulacrum. Only those lucky enough to come from certain dialects are acceptable to the exigencies of the call center. This is by no means trivial, because the riches of Aladdin's lamp await those who can learn the subtleties of American vocal nuance: exemplified by the series, Friends. Documentary footage of "lucky" operators taking the name of a "friend" is interlaced with onstage performance and computer animation to demonstrate how they are simultaneously elevated and erased. Success brings both privilege and agon. Like countless incarnations of Aladdin, these young women and men glimpse at once the wish fulfillment of 21st-century capital while lamenting the loss of the America of their imaginations: an ideal driven by the overwhelming panopticon of Western culture. This essay focuses on the theoretical framework of the stage as a cultural palimpsest: unpacking the complex relationships of a performance of the performance of culture. Among the theories I employ are Bakhtin's notion of the chronotope, examining the multiple time-space tropes that the actor, character, spectator, and communal authors occupy.

Keywords: Theatre, Performance, Postcolonial Theory, Chronotope

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 9, pp.123-132. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 549.278KB).

Dr. Terry Donovan Smith

Assistant Professor, Department of Theatre Arts, California State University, San Bernardino, CA, USA

Ph.D. University of Washington School of Drama. Actor and director in theatre, film, and television. Research focus on performance analysis (member Performance Analysis Working Group, International Federation for Theatre Research). Professor of dramaturgy and theatre history. Areas include semiotics, postcolonial theory, 20th century dramatic literature, and medieval performance. Recent work includes papers on peformances by Mabou Mines (New York) and Schaubuhne am Platz (Berlin). Publications include Modern Drama, Journal of Popular Film and Television, and book chapters in Cultures of Celebration and Method Acting Reconsidered. Conference presentations include American Society for Theatre Research, International Federation for Theatre Research, Comparative Drama, Association for Theatre in Higher Education.

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