Executive Stress / Corporate Retreat
Applespiel @ Adelaide College of the Arts – Main Theatre
2:00pm, Sat 3 Mar 2012
Intrigued by the promise of self-help theatre (and god knows I need plenty of help), I patiently waited in line near the allotted start time. Several young, well-dressed people came out and announced that the first ten people in the queue were able to enter the “elite programme” – and I was the lucky tenth person in line.
And tenth I stayed throughout the experience… but more on that later.
There’s an initial exercise – simple yes/no answers to rapid-fire questions – for those in the elite programme while we’re still in the foyer; we’re separated into the ominously named Alpha and Delta groups. Naturally, I found myself cast into the Deltas, and with the teams decided we filed into the Main Theatre, where the elite programme had their front-row seats reserved… with a couple of dozen non-elite spectators sitting behind.
It very quickly became evident that the eight members of the business-attired Applespiel (five men, three women) were trying to foster a competitive environment, as they explained the rules of engagement to us whilst performing a beep test. Not only were we elites expected to compete against each other – both as individuals and as teams – but there were also distinct elements of friction between the purveyors of this exercise; one of the women, in particular, became the focus of many snarls and snapped insults, all wrapped up in ludicrous corporate-speak.
The elite programme members didn’t spend much time spectating from our seats, though; more often than not, we were lined up and facing the audience whilst undergoing “tests”. Starting out with simple job interview questions, each trial was scored, with a leaderboard displaying the results at the end of each exercise. This had the undoubtedly desired effect of increasing the sense of competition between us; I remember fuming because my Double-Windsor tie-knot was undoubtedly superior to my neighbour’s scrawny mess, and he was verbally ranked “excellent” opposed to my slap-in-the-face “good”.
In fact, I became convinced that the early leader – Wayne, an Alpha (of course!) – was a plant. He seemed to be garnering massive amounts of respect and approval from our facilitators for merely average output; so during a team exercise, where both teams had to build spaceships from a boxful of stationary supplies, I hatched a plan to guarantee Delta’s success, resulting in Wayne being de-throned from the leaderboard – “we’re stealing all the parts,” I told the team.
So we did, garnering an “excellent… and innovative” response. Unfortunately, Alpha’s colossal failure was still deemed “excellent”-worthy… our innovation had been for nothing, with Alpha Team dominating the top rankings on the leader board, and me finishing dead last.
Executive Stress / Corporate Retreat may have been a lot of fun for those watching, especially during the “animal meditation” exercise… but I certainly had my competitive hackles raised, and that’s not necessarily a pleasurable thing for me. But it was an insightful – if not cynical – look at those professional relationships that I would certainly not choose to engage in, and it left me with plenty to think about; in retrospect, I reckon this is a performance I would’ve enjoyed more from the audience, rather than the stage.