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