Review: Micromanage. Overwork. Exasperate. by Dark Matter Theatrics [1/10/16]

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Teachers beware: This show will probably trigger all kinds of PTSD relating to your worklife. Directed by Christopher Fok and written by Marcia Vanderstraaten, Micromanage. Overwork. Exasperate. (conveniently shortened to MOE) takes the form of a teaching seminar facilitated by Lian Sutton, where you the audience will be subject to learning about the ups and downs of being a member of the Ministry of Education.

Vignesh Singh, Shafiqhah Efandi, Jo Tan and Edward Choy play our hosts in this seminar, each playing a variety of roles to illustrate just how tough a teacher’s life can be. The four of them started off the play interrogating the audience (particularly the ever eccentric and energetic Jo Tan), asking if they are absolutely sure they want to be a teacher, referencing the 3 year compulsory bond they’re subject to, before turning the questions on their head and desperately convincing themselves out loud that teaching is the right career for them, introducing us to part 1 of the performance.

Part 1 of MOE showcased a series of vignettes and scenes showing different aspects of the teaching track. From haplessly fighting metaphorical fires during parent teacher meetings to being unable to go on holidays with their families due to the lack of work-life balance, MOE truly has painted a dark portrait of what it’s like to be a Singaporean educator.

Some of the staging was quite clever, such as the portrayal of a teacher’s ability to get time off as a game of luck and chance (Snakes and Ladders), determined entirely by the roll of a dice. The teacher, played by an emotional Shafiqhah Efandi, ends up quitting, but by the time she does that, her children are too old to want to go on holiday with her, and she ends the scene slumped and defeated in a couch.

Post ‘recess’ (intermission), we moved out of the black box to the rehearsal studio to witness facilitator Lian Sutton introduce Edward Choy as a professor, who then proceeded to berate the audience about the importance of the PSLE and how failure to get into a good secondary school meant failure for the rest of your life. Much of the second half of the play consisted of the ‘teachers’ sharing their heartfelt thoughts about the education system and school environment, such as the secret bad habits of a teacher (smoking) and forbidden teacher-student relationships (read: sexy teacher role play, highlighting the various sex scandals over the years).

The audience consisted of a fair number of teachers, who sniggered and let out laughs throughout the performance during the various references and in-jokes made about school life. But no matter what your job, the one scene that really gets you is the final one, where Jo Tan talks about a student who committed suicide, and wonders if it’s her fault and if she could do anything more about it.

Overall, MOE is an interesting analysis into the perils of the educator life that will definitely resonate with anyone who’s experienced working in the teaching industry. Or if you’re a student, perhaps you’ll understand your teachers’ plight a little better. In any case, MOE succeeds in showing the side of teachers too many people never see, pushing for more care and consideration for them in their mission to do the one thing they set out to do – educate. At the end of the play when the actors come back and ask  the audience once more if they want to be a teacher, it comes with the weight of all the stories that came before it, and the job now elevated to something much more noble and full of sacrifice than when they first stepped in.

Micromanage. Overwork. Exasperate. plays at Centre 42 till tomorrow, 2 October. Tickets are sold out.

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