CULTURE

The office party performance: ‘Ho, ho, ho!’ or ‘no, no, no!’?

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For people with crippling anxiety or even stage fright, being forced to perform is a serious cause for concern. Illustration by JL JAVIER

The stage can either be a place of joy or misery. Depending on which side you’re on, performing for the company Christmas or year-end party can either be a delightful event to bond with peers or a venue for potential humiliation for all the office to see.

New employees are usually the sacrificial lambs in what has seemingly become a rite of passage in the country’s business districts, and it has come alive again now that face-to-face celebrations are back. It’s gone as far as becoming meme material for Instagram accounts like '90s Kabaklaan, which dedicated an entire carousel of memes about Christmas party performances:

This has even reached human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, who was asked half-jokingly via Twitter if there was legal recourse for this type of situation.

“Depende sa song,” he tweeted back.

No, no, no!

For people with crippling anxiety or even stage fright, being forced to perform is a serious cause for concern. User @OStories64 added to the conversation: “For some people with anxiety, this is a big problem. Unfortunately, our country and government and systems, and even culture are still behind regarding this. So instead of consideration, they mock you for being 'killjoy'.”

In an interview, an employee who refuses to be named for fear of retaliation, explained: “But what to do if you’re an introvert? What if you don’t have a talent to showcase? Or what if you just don’t want to do it?” they said. “And maybe sometimes, the amount of money that’s poured just for these presentations or productions with costumes, set pieces, videos etc. that are used just for this one single time can be a bit wasteful or unsustainable in my view.”

A few people take to Reddit to air their grievances. Just early this month, the user @HistoryFreak30 narrated their traumatic experience in a post entitled “Forced Christmas party performance triggered my anxiety and panic attacks”.

“When we performed in front of the COO and higher ups, I felt like we were clowns or jesters na nagpe-perform sa mga privileged righteous people,” they wrote. “Tuwang tuwa at hiyang hiya ako noon. Natalo kami but our consolation prize [was] only 100 pesos each. T***** diba? Nasira na nga mental health mo, ginawa ka pang circus animal, tapos yan lang ang prize.”

This was also the predominant sentiment in an informal survey of the followers of my Instagram account @MissChiefEditor — a cohort of mostly 18 to 34-year-old followers, who are usually students and young professionals based in Metro Manila.

“Hate it,” one follower put simply.

Another replied with three vomiting emojis: 🤮🤮🤮.

“I dread it :( I am too much of an introvert. I’d rather work than perform tbh,” another said.

Another follower had rather strong opinions: “It’s a waste of everybody’s time. The audience is forced to sit through something not entertaining while the performers waste company or personal time for practice. JUST HIRE PROFESSIONAL ENTERTAINERS FFS.”

Ho, ho, ho!

While it can indeed be construed as a means to cut down on the company budget, there is also good intent behind mounting these presentations.

“I hated it when I was doing it as an employee. But now, as a small business owner, I do appreciate it,” shared agency owner Cynthia Diaz of Outpace Events.

“Our staff last year divided themselves into three groups and did a dance performance. And they really went all out — costumes, props, choreography. One group even learned how to fire dance and invested in glow-in-the-dark costumes. It was really touching that they went all out,” she said.

“When I asked them what motivated them, they said it was because they appreciate the company and enjoy the work that they do for us,” she added. “And that made me think differently about Christmas party presentations.”

There are definitely superstar employees who once lived under the spotlight, but who now, as working adults, only get a chance to perform onstage again during these office occasions.

Dickens Polidario, for example, graduated from the UP’s Theatre Arts program where he did acting, playwriting and production design. Today, he works at a university doing student services, marketing and corporate communications.

“Seriously, as an actor-turned-office worker, it’s a release,” he said. “As an extrovert, I’m always looking forward to being the star of the show.”

Pao Ilandag, my colleague and a Dulaang UP alumnus-turned-technical training specialist, also relished his 15 minutes of fame during our company’s year-end party at the Edsa Shangri-la last weekend.

Our team’s newest employee, he choreographed our team’s “Under the Sea” production number, which featured elaborate mermaid and merman costumes — intricately sewn by hand other members of the team — and props like electric fans with strips of colored paper to recreate sea anemones.

In a separate chat, he admitted to missing the stage now that he has a full-time corporate job.

“Performing in front of people gives me a rush,” he described.

“I think the confidence that I got from performing translated into the confidence I have now when I talk or teach people at work,” he added. “The fact that you have to be ‘present’ when performing found its parallel in being ‘present’ when talking to stakeholders.”

I myself was on the same stage that evening, though in a different capacity as an event host. Having been a touring performer in college with the UP Concert Chorus — which saw me travel to nearly 20 countries for concerts and competitions — I understand the rush that Pao describes. To an extent, commanding the attention of an audience and being able to draw emotion through a performance can feel like a superpower.

But one person’s superpower can be another’s kryptonite. And if we want our holiday parties to be truly merry, we have to let the stars be stars, and let the wallflowers be.