Arts online Review Singapore

Review: The Staff Room by Impromptu Meetings

A timely lesson on what it means to be a good teacher.

As a student, have you ever wondered what goes on in the staff room, the most forbidden of forbidden spaces, where teachers are allowed to drop their fierce exterior and be their true selves? Impromptu Meetings are here to show you what may happen behind closed doors, as teachers battle it out to win the favour of students in The Staff Room.

Performed on Zoom, The Staff Room takes place in Xiao Ming Secondary School, where four teachers vie to get nominated for a prestigious teaching award. While each of them knows their worth, there’s one final factor that comes into play – student appeal. With one last class each on nomination day, math teacher Natasha (Cheryl Tan Yun Xin), artsy fartsy, accented art teacher Deirdre (Miriam Cheong), and the TikTok dance-loving PE teacher Reihan (Adeeb Fazah) attempt to amp up their final lesson with class 4D, adding in as many bells and whistles as they can manage to win the class’ affection.

The Staff Room toggles between two main ‘venues’ – a view of the staff room pantry, where the teachers fight over missing Lotus biscuits and unearth hidden secrets about each others’ past to gain an advantage, and breakout rooms, where we, as audience members, roleplay as class 4D, and experience each Zoom lesson for ourselves. Finding a careful balance between both styles of performance can be difficult, but The Staff Room works well to ensure that the transitions between both styles are clear, and we know exactly when we need to be attentive and ready for class, or sit back and watch the staff room drama unfold.

The most innovative segment of The Staff Room is, of course, expected to be the lessons themselves, where audience members get to participate and interact with each other via the chat box and the activities each teacher has planned. In theory, this is a rather creative way to ‘perform’, taking a leaf from actual teachers’ online lessons and introducing audience members to bingo-styled math worksheets, Kahoot quizzes testing our knowledge of famous art pieces (with a Spongebob twist), and emulating the trendiest new TikTok dances. But the interaction feels repetitive after a while, and the activities themselves not particularly engaging (owing to laggy screen sharing, or tapping out by the time we reach the more physically demanding PE lesson to end off).

The show’s saving grace then, lies in the actors’ performances, with each actor embodying the stereotypes their character has been given with gusto. As a Zoom performance, it is necessary to constantly perform at 110% to bridge the physical distance between audience and actor, and all three manage to maintain this throughout the performance, allowing such energy to translate across the screen. Furthermore, each actor also takes the time to read the chat logs, and address specific responses from the audience to make it feel that much more personal.

The stereotypes themselves are low-hanging fruit, and make for easy laughs. Miriam and Adeeb play slightly unbelievable, extreme versions of art and PE teachers, but Cheryl shines brightest as the strict, curt Math teacher, being the most realistic of the three, and who never stops chiding us about how ‘doing the Math is the real prize’. More importantly, there are layers to each character when they reveal their fears and backstories in the staff room, allowing us to understand their personal vendettas against each other, or their ‘necessity’ as examinable subjects.

While it does take some time to get there, The Staff Room eventually ends on a chaotic note, and in the rubble, all three teachers come to learn the most important lesson of all – that they never did need to try to gain students’ affection through newfangled trends. Having already done things like showing how willing they are to stay back with their students during crunch time, or attempting to get students to see the merit in their work when they themselves cannot, is already more than enough to demonstrate duty of care for students.

With the creative potential already there, the team just needs some work on refining the script and execution, and Impromptu Meetings can bring their work to another level to make their already poignant message hit even harder. But for now, aptly performed on Teachers’ Day weekend, The Staff Room is a simple but entertaining evening out that showcases Impromptu Meetings’ propensity for fun and a reminder to us all of the amount of love and care teachers have for us.

The Staff Room played on 3rd and 4th September 2021 online. Follow Impromptu Meetings on Instagram

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