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While creating and refining the protocol for Project Alo?, two questions have continued to occupy my mind:

How can we keep Alo? in the framework of theater art, rather than video art?

          How much of a divide is between the two forms of expression?

My background is in visual art. While I find myself drawn mainly to painting, I have also experimented with performance and video art. I always looked at theater as a condensed collaborative performance art piece bringing together multiple artists from various disciplines –literature, music, visual arts, movement, etc. Theatre feels like the ultimate collaboration in the Arts, which is what drew me to it. Therefore, fusing other disciplines within a performance context seems like a natural choice.

Understandably, not every theater person will agree with me. The purists will argue Theatre is made up of certain essentials: live, immediate, transitory. This divide came up in our discussions with our facilitators. We were debating whether the participants should be allowed to edit their submissions. These consist strictly of 1-minute smart phone captured videos. Most of us agreed that each participant should have the freedom to edit or not to edit, but one of our facilitators strongly objected. She was concerned that if we allow video editing, we would be moving towards a video art project rather than a theatre one. A raw cellphone capture would keep the immediacy and liveness that marks theatre. She had a point. Others argued for artistic freedom and creativity. If we are asking artists to be creative in a particular medium, we have to let them be as creative as they can and want.

Where does theatre end and video art begin? When is a video clip a form of reportage and when does it transform into a piece of art? When our participants decide to be involved in our video exchange as theatre artists, they are agreeing to make video art, from a theatre artist’s perspective. Is this the distinguishing factor? In our project protocol, we commit to treating their 1-minute videos as works of art; we would not edit or rearrange parts of the videos. In other words, we would only share/show the 1-minute clip in its entirety, or not at all.

We asked each participant to introduce themselves on camera, before they begin the dialogue/exchange phase of the project. Surprisingly, a number of the introduction videos we received came edited.

(Project Alo?: An International Mobile Video Play: Video introduction of Project Alo? participants)

 For the dialogue/exchange phase of the project, we offer the participants a set of parameters to provide minimal guidance and consistency among the work. However, we quickly add that the parameters should be taken as source of inspiration; as ideas open to interpretation, not as strict requirements. We also decided not to share the work among the teams until the end, to avoid undue influence. Subsequently, we ended up with a wide range of styles and subjects. Some elements seem to be recurrent though: coffee, books, music…

It has been interesting to observe the difference in the way various participants respond to the protocol. In the first round of the video dialogue, some artists quickly sent in their first submission without asking for clarification or more details. Others seemed to have been blocked by the parameters they were given. For instance, one of the parameters was “Kitchen.” One artist was worried about his work because he “can never be alone in his kitchen.” Another was traveling and “did not have a kitchen.” Eventually, we had to remind everyone that the parameters are there to inspire, not limit, and that in the arts, nothing has to be literal.

Another interesting remark was in reaction to a well edited video: it put the partner in a competitive mode. The partner missed his deadline for his response because he was too worried about matching the quality of his partner’s submission. In this case, I made an executive decision to share with him another team’s video, an example of a very simple yet thoughtful and elegant unedited video, veering towards minimalism. In this case, it was necessary to provide an alternative to this artist so that he doesn’t imagine all submissions to be of a certain quality or to have a ‘look’ that he is unable to recreate. I learned that it is imperative to remind participants that the goal of the project is to engage in a dialogue, not compete on Final Cut skills.

We chose smart phones as primary tool in Project Alo? because of their availability and ease of use. A smartphone video dialogue -much like a theatre game- is a dynamic collaboration that reveals a bit of the participants’ truth, yet -unlike a theatre game – a smartphone video dialogue is permanent and public, it will live forever as it is shared with the world through Project Alo?. This seems to be a very significant difference between live theatre and video-performance. I realized that, ultimately, Project Alo? doesn’t just demand 5 mini-performances of our participants, it demands courage to experiment with a new media, trust and collaborate with artists they never met, and put the results out there for the world to see, in perpetuity.

Fatima Zahra El Filali is the Alo? Project Manager at Golden Thread Productions. As a visual artist, her work has been shown at the Regis Art Center in the University of Minnesota as well as in MCAD, among other venues. As an actress, Fatima has worked with Pangea World Theater and Mizna in Minneapolis. She is now a Web Science graduate student at the University of San Francisco. Born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco, Fatima received her BA in Art, and BS in Computer Science from St Cloud State University in 2009. She is fluent in Arabic, French and English.

The intent of the MetLife/TCG A-HA! Program is to enable theatres to dare to try new approaches to problem-solving artistic, managerial, production and/or technological challenges–to try things the organization doesn’t and couldn’t normally do. To learn more about the program, click here.