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Micromanage Overwork Exasperate is a play about the challenges of the teaching industry, by young theatre company Dark Matter Theatrics.

Teachers - like you've never seen them before

Sep 30, 2016 5:50 AM

IS teaching one of the hardest professions in this country? Dark Matter Theatrics' play Micromanage Overwork Exasperate will have you convinced that it is.

Written by Marcia Vanderstraaten and directed by her and Christopher Fok, the script is created from interviews with a range of schoolteachers in Singapore, eliciting many frank observations about the state of the profession.

So frank, in fact, that this is probably not a play that the Ministry of Education (whose acronym MOE is the same as that of the play's title) wants any young or aspiring teacher to see. Conversely, many sitting in the audiences night after night have been young teachers.

Yes, we've all heard about how precocious, incorrigible and self-satisfied the kids can be these days. We've heard about the inane inflexibility of some schools' administration and principals, on top of the demands of competitive parents.

But the play goes much farther to show the personal emotional toll the profession takes on teachers, the relentless guilt they feel about their favourite pupils going wayward, their deep personal shame when their own children fail to excel academically.

The young cast made up of Jo Tan, Shafiqhah Efandi, Edward Choy and Vignesh Singh play multiple roles of teachers, parents and students convincingly. But Tan deserves mention for playing the comedy and drama to the hilt. One moment, she has us in stitches as a neurotic teacher prattling in Singlish; next moment, she breaks our hearts as a guilt-ridden teacher who wonders where she went wrong.

Directors Fok and Vanderstraaten blend realistic drama with physical theatre and vaudevillian absurdity in the various spaces of the Centre 42 building. A few decisions feel a little contrived - two teachers confronting difficult parents are shown fighting fire with a fire extinguisher. Other decisions are more effective - a teacher obsesses over her students' welfare even as she repeatedly carries out her home routines.

Ultimately, what makes Micromanage Overwork Exasperate so compelling are these no-holds-barred confessions about the frustrations of being a teacher torn between a demanding administration, unsympathetic parents and clamorous pupils. It's refreshing to hear the teachers themselves speak candidly about the futile pretence that "every school is a good school", the bizarre expectation that a Primary 4 pupil should be able to spell the word "prerogative", and the daily temptation of leaving the teaching profession to go into the more lucrative, less regulated, less responsible tuition industry.

When you hear of friends and relatives quitting the profession, you will stop wondering why.

  • Micromanage Overwork Exasperate is on at Centre 42 from now till Oct 2. Tickets are sold out.