PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 26.2 (2004) 96-102
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The Builders Association at BAM
Alladeen, directed by Marianne Weems, conceived by Keith Khan, Marianne Weems, and Ali Zaidi. A collaboration between The Builders Association and motiroti. BAM 2003 Next Wave Festival.
It is easy to sit back and simply get lost in the spectacle of Alladeen, the recent collaboration between New York's The Builders Association and London's motiroti. As the piece begins, a young Indian woman "multi-tasks" on her cell phone, switching between languages and discussing karaoke bars as her call waiting clicks in; a large screen behind her begins to simultaneously transform and blocks of images slide effortlessly into place like a puzzle, finally becoming a Virgin Records megastore. The night I saw the production, this moment of technological "magic" caused the BAM audience to break into applause, apparently over the technological innovation of the creation. Indeed, it is possible to be seduced by the use of technology on stage or the mesmerizing sound composition by Dan Dobson (with original music samples by Shrikanth Sriram). Equally facile is the manner in which the production team has woven the romantic tale of Aladdin and his magic lamp into and through a story about the increasing rise of International Call Centers in places like India, in which young people aim to "pass" as American (or British) to fulfill a growing global corporate need for cheap labor.
The main section of the production takes place in Bangalore, India, and revolves around four struggling call center operators. It is framed by sections in New York and London, a structure which emphasizes the international global teamwork that makes up the piece. It is also possible to admire this cultural collaboration and even to find humor in the cultural differences that are erased as phone lines, megastores, and money blur the boundaries between the three distinct locations—New York City, Bangalore, and London. However, as slickly as Alladeen presents this highly entertaining material, and as possible it is to be seduced by it, beneath the surface lies a discomforting sense of unease. Caught up in both the technological extravaganza that Builders is known for, and the strong acting by performers Rizwan Mirza, Heaven Phillips, Tanya Selvaratnam, Jasmine Simhalen, and Jeff [End Page 96] Webster, it is often difficult to see past the cultural blurring into the very real world of corporate greed and capitalism which drives the presentation of the stories that make up Alladeen.
Directed by Marianne Weems and conceived by Weems, Keith Khan, and Ali Zaidi of motiroti, Alladeen was created on several levels: the actual production, a website (http://www.Alladeen.com) and a music video, with production design by Keith Khan and Ali Zaidi and video design by Christopher Kondek; sound composition and design by Dan Dobson, original music samples by Shrikanth Sriram and lighting design by Jennifer Tipton, Text (part two) by Martha Baer. The stage production is made up of three sections; the story line centers around the Bangalore call centers and the training and employment of four hopeful operators. On a split stage (a large screen the width of the stage is raised above the playing space) the actors below become part of a composite image, much like a computer screen with many windows open, which blends footage from actual call center operators with projections of contemporary cultural images, such as the characters from the popular TV series, Friends. In fact, Friends becomes an amusing structural gimmick—each of the call center operators works to take on an American persona and selects the name of one of the Friends characters as an alter ego. This offers a clever chance to work with new technologies of image processing in which the faces of the live actors are at times merged with the faces of the Friends characters, ultimately creating a physical erasure of both identities.1 In preparation for Alladeen the artistic team traveled to Bangalore to observe the actual centers and...