“Teaching 101 – a conflicted overview”
Reviewer: Jocelyn Chng
Performance: 30 September 2016
With a title like Micromanage Overwork Exasperate and its corresponding acronym MOE, this production immediately sparks my interest (MOE being also, and more recognisably, the acronym for the Ministry of Education in Singapore). This production is a reworking of an earlier version – the “E” being changed from “Exaggerate” in its previous incarnation to the current “Exasperate,” which perhaps more accurately describes life in the teaching profession, as we are soon to see.
I arrive early at Centre 42 and am directed into a holding room with motivational posters on the walls. I later notice on closer observation that the motivational posters are not quite what they seem – the “quotes” are actually sarcastic jibes, the first indication of the direction that the performance is taking. Once most of the audience has arrived, we are herded upstairs into the black box, where “facilitators” mingle with us and make small talk with individual audience members, ostensibly about their interest in becoming a teacher. We also receive a booklet with “pre-briefing instructions,” “facilitator profiles” and a “programme schedule,” which lists sessions such as “Communication Skills for Teachers” and “Exploring Issues in Philosophy of Education” – certainly exciting topics for new initiates into the teaching profession. After a short announcement by an “officer” wearing a lanyard, the next part of the performance begins.
From here onward, though, the entire performance frame falls apart. The performers, who just a few minutes ago were interacting with the audience as “briefing facilitators,” suddenly cannot seem to decide if they are actors or facilitators. The lighting does cue us to a change in frame, and as the performers assume non-naturalistic poses, it becomes clear that from here on they are actually embodying stage personas. However, something about the switch from direct audience address to a more distanced presentational mode does not happen quite smoothly enough, making it feel disjunctive and disorienting.
Unfortunately, this confusion permeates the remainder of the performance. After the intermission, which is framed as a “recess” or break, we experience the requisite technological /logistical issue of a missing projector, and the professor who enters to deliver a session on “Educational Psychology II: Providing for Individual Differences in Learning and Teaching” ends up delivering a tirade against standardised testing. Another “facilitator” then enters to clean the whiteboard, but also cannot resist complaining about the system while she is at it.
To be fair, much of the content is heartfelt and well-described, judging by the laughter and bittersweet knowing nods from the many audience members who are obviously teachers. Teachers were interviewed and their trials and tribulations form the basis of MOE; this care taken in the research process shows. But to make it a truly powerful work, the framing of the performance as a briefing session, which holds much potential especially if the audience could be implicated further, needs to be tighter and more coherent.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
MICROMANAGE OVERWORK EXASPERATE by Dark Matters Theatrics
27 September – 2 October 2016
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jocelyn Chng graduated from the Masters in International Performance Research programme, receiving a double degree from the Universities of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Tampere, Finland. She currently freelances and teaches at the LASALLE College of the Arts.