I went to see Alladeen with Hanne-Lovise this evening. Five actors, many projectors, several technicians: it was theatre and video and animations all on top of each other, extravagant and often quite effective. The website is a separate project and perhaps even more interesting: alladeen.com, a web documentary about the people who do phone sales and customer support for Americans – in Bangalore, and about the disjunction of time and space in today’s society, and about identities. The idea and the theme is fabulous: enactments of the language classes given to the call centers’ new hires (obliterate any trace of your mother tongue, learn about American culture, fake an identity, “Phoebe, my name’s Phoebe”, “I live in New York”, “The snow here is terrible”) and jetsetting Indians in New York, London, on mobile phones switching from British to American to Spanish to Chinese always agreeing to meet or just having met. There were a few wonderful moments where the cross-media thing really worked well – a webcam closeup shot of a call center woman’s face as she explains directions to a spiritually lost man in California, or the way the exact same background is used for New York as for London, different traffic lights sliding up the screen as an actor walks in front of it, talking into her cellphone constantly.
But despite the richness of the theme and the cool technical effects and the enjoyable unfamiliarity of watching a documentary play, Alladeen seemed to be missing something. There were vignettes, there were suggestions of stories, there were videotaped statements from call center workers, but it needed something more. Perhaps that something more is suggested in the website: Aladdin’s story, the rags to riches story of mixed ethnicity and wishes to be granted. Apart from the lamps projected on walls at various intervals, and the wishes flicking across the ticker at the end of the performance, there wasn’t much Aladdin in there. I wanted more story.
The website, alladeen.com, is designed as a standalone project, and is definitely worth a look. Some of the videos of call center people describing their experiences are hilarious – and enlightening.