Lessons from a stage play on handling office politics
As you head back to the office in the new year and steel yourself for any office politics, consider catching the award-winning play Bull by playwright Mike Bartlett. The sharply written comedy examines what it takes to survive in a dog-eat-dog world, and it is staged by Singapore theatre company Wild Rice at its theatre in Funan mall from 7 to 9 Jan. The production is directed by Victoria Chen, and it stars actors Brian Nai, Oniatta Effendi, Selma Alkaff and Dennis Sofian.
Read on to find out what the cast learnt through the play about dealing with office politics, and how they prepared for their roles.
How do you relate to the character you play?
Nai: I play Tony, the manipulative office hotshot born with a privileged background. In addition to his unfair advantage of being a good-looking guy in a male-dominated industry, he knows how to play “the game”. I don’t relate to Tony at all because I am not that good with people, but it is always fun to discover and explore the psyche of someone who is vastly different from myself, and to accurately portray him on stage.
Sofian: I play the character Thomas. I relate to his character a lot because we have both been victims of bullying. I know what that is like and how it can mentally affect you.
Alkaff: I play Isobel, who would seem to be the “mean girl”. I wouldn’t say we are alike, and that makes it both exciting and challenging to play her.
Effendi: I play the character Carter. She is the boss of Isobel, Tony and Thomas. I love her energy, which is like that of a woman in power. I secretly aspire to be as sharp as Carter, even though I don’t think I am close to being as cold or detached as she is.
What has the play taught you about dealing with office politics?
Nai: There might always be people constantly trying to put you down, but there are many ways to deal with that, which do not involve you bringing yourself down to their level. Pick your battles, do your job, and do it well.
Sofian: The play shows how insidious and unprofessional people can be in the office. I don’t think the playwright intended so much to present office politics in a realistic light, as to bring the underlying aggression and malice to the surface. If you have colleagues like the ones in the play, my advice is to leave your workplace.
Alkaff: I have never worked in an office, so I don’t have any firsthand experience. But the play has made me think about what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated office environment. My advice is to be nice to people because you never know what someone is going through.
Effendi: The play did not teach me anything I didn’t already know. Office politics is nasty, and it is an inevitable rite of passage.
How did you prepare for your role?
Nai: There was a lot of research and discussion with the rest of the cast and the director. I spent a good portion of my time researching how upper-class Singaporeans spend their childhood, and how the kinds of schools they attend might affect them as people. Physically, I had to change up my diet and work out to fit the profile of my character.
Sofian: The bulk of the work happened during rehearsals both in and out of the room. It is important to establish the character’s backstory, the world that the character inhabits and how he would interact in that world.
Alkaff: Besides our usual physical and vocal warm-up, I try to get into the mindset of Isobel. For example, what is her state of mind before the scene? What does she want, and how is she going to achieve it?
Effendi: My shoes and handbag help me get into the role. A huge part of my prep resolves around getting into character through my costumes.
Replies were edited and condensed for clarity. Book your tickets to BULL here.