Diva To The Death: An Interview with Bite Me Productions’ Co-Founders Celeste Chong and Charles Pan

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Immersive dining experiences have been around for a while, having made waves in huge metropolitan countries like London and New York when it was first introduced yet. So it makes perfect sense that companies would begin trying to introduce that same concept to Singapore, quite literally bringing food to the theatre.

But in the case of new company Bite Me Productions, they’re taking it one step further and going full on classy, holding their very first production at the Fullerton Pavilion’s Monti restaurant. Created by Chestnuts creator Jonathan Lim with music arranged by Elaine Chan, Diva to the Death will pit theatre veterans Audrey Luo and Candice de Rozario in an unforgettable catfight between East and West as the two stars vie for the title of Queen of Monti.

Now, Bite me Productions’ co-founders Celeste Chong and Charles Pan are no stranger to nightlife and show business, having both worked in Butter Factory before its closure in 2015 (Celeste was one of the co-founders!). Since then, they’ve gone on to do some pretty awesome things, with “Queen of the Night” Celeste involved in launching ventures such as bar/diner Overeasy and leading marketing at co-working space The Great Room, while NUS Theatre Studies graduate Charles might be a familiar face on television and on film, with roles in Lucky Boy and I’m In Charge, and was a guest relations manager at One Altitude and Club Altimate.

We spoke to both Celeste and Charles before Diva To The Death opens this week, and found out a little more about the story behind Bite Me. Read the interview in full below!

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Bakchormeeboy: Tell us the story of how Bite Me was set up, what inspired it and what does the company hope to achieve? 

Celeste: Back in 2006, when my business partners and I started The Butter Factory, it was to fill a gap in the market. We created a premium Hip Hop club, and was the first club in Singapore to bring elements of Fashion, Design, Art & Music into our club events. While my own interests have moved from clubbing, I have always liked theatre and have a passion for creating fresh lifestyle entertainment concepts.

The trend today is such that consumers are moving away from owning things but are buying into experiences. The entertainment scene in Singapore has evolved, it is growing with a variety of things to see and do. I feel it is the right time, people are hungry for unique lifestyle experiences, and that’s the reason Bite Me Productions was started. We aim to serve a refreshing taste of theatre by producing unique lifestyle experiences we believe Singaporeans are hungry for.

Charles: While I was studying theatre in NUS, I always dreamt of providing a form of theatre that blurs the lines between illusion and reality; where something really outrageous and entertaining happens as if by accident in a real space in real time. While local theatre has its usual circle of enthusiasts, I had hoped to expand the reach of theatre to people who usually would not frequent shows; by expanding the breadth of entertainment our shows have to offer to tap into the outside market.

We often hear of people saying that this sunny little island lacks fun, so we challenge this notion. Come, and be entertained in a brand new style!

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Bakchormeeboy: Bite Me isn’t the first company to be doing immersive dining experiences, what makes your works stand out from the rest? 

Celeste: Theatre dining is not a new concept and it is popular especially in New York & London.

About 10 years back, Ah Gong’s Birthday Party already introduced the concept of theatre dining in Singapore. And while we are not the first company to do this, it is still a relatively new entertainment concept in Singapore. Diva to the Death is the first Supper dining musical experience, and it is also the first creative collaboration between familiar names in theatre, f&b and nightlife.

Bite Me Productions scouts for a location whose set lends itself to the storyline and brings together a theatre partner who writes a show tailored to the venue. Monti’s chef has also specially crafted a supper menu to match the “culture clash” theme of the show.

Theatre is also typically an activity for couples on a date or attended with 1 or 2 friends and is not a social activity. I wanted to produce an immersive and interactive show where guests can interact with both the cast and other attendees. And while most people dress up for a show and want to stay out after the show especially on weekends, they are usually left with nowhere to go after it ends. I want to change that with Bite Me Productions and bring in another element to the traditional theatre experience.

Charles: We seek to create a unique and holistic experience with this project, with great food, comedy, music, drama and as immersive as you choose it to be. The audience can (if they wish to) choose to mingle amongst their friends, let the drama sit in the background and still have a good time with the ambience, food and drinks itself or; really focus on the show and catch each little nuance and hilarious lyrics. Either way, as a member of the audience, you have the freedom to enjoy the experience your way. Each detail of the show is carefully considered, with the menu crafted to the theme.

We are making a show in its natural environment, so you would never have to pretend that the venue is a restaurant because it actually is a fully functioning one in reality!

Bakchormeeboy: How many productions does Bite Me intend to create in a year, and what other potential projects do you currently have in the works in future?

Celeste: This is our first show and for us to gauge the demand and audience response. If there is demand for what we do, we hope to be able to produce more. But right now our efforts are focused on Diva to the Death.

Charles: We do have exciting plans laid out for the future , one can always dream. For now we are focusing our efforts on our first project.

Photo Credit: The Butter Factory

Bakchormeeboy: You were both working for Butter Factory when it was still around. Since its closure, how do you think the nightlife scene has changed, and are Singaporeans looking for a different kind of experience these days?    

Celeste: I personally outgrew clubbing a few years back and around that time I noticed that people were starting to want variety. They were not as content heading back to the same club every weekend.

Charles:  People want human/social interaction in their downtime. Which is why we with our show, we are creating a platform for guests to be entertained, talk to each other about the show and be joined together in a shared experience.

Bakchormeeboy: Besides the nightlife scene, you’ve both also been active in the arts, with Celeste having co-produced the film ‘sex.violence.familyvalues’ and setting up AOS Collective, while Charles was a TSD student, trained under Dick Lee and will even be appearing in Crazy Rich Asians. How do you two balance your passion for the arts with a head for business and sustainability?   

Celeste: Back at The Butter Factory, thankfully we were doing well from the club that it allowed me to dabble with other areas of interest like film (sex.violence.familyvalues) and music (AOS Collective). As for Bite Me Productions, this has been an idea I’ve had since August 2016 and was trying to figure out how to make business sense of it. I knew I did not want heavy outlay and did not want to spend on expensive venue rental and building of sets. Which is why the business model is built based on a collaborative model where we work with a venue partner, and the script is written to suit the venue. For example, Monti is itself a restaurant and Jazz lounge, we did not have to build any sets/props as the story is set in a Jazz lounge.

Charles: While i was still a student at NUS, I’ve debated with the seemingly dualistic concept of Art versus Commercial, amongst the many talented fellow students and friends that I’m fortunate enough to meet, there seems to be an inclination to avoid the topic of money – as if money would somehow corrupt the nature of art itself. You might see this in music too, with some artistes beings snubbed for being “commercial” or being called a sell-out when their records are well received. I’d say that there is no show without the biz in showbiz. You can easily argue that Shakespeare was commercial in his time too, yet his works have survived till today and are now held in high artistic regard.

Celeste: I have no idea what Charles is talking about.

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Bakchormeeboy: What do you hope audiences walk away with after watching Diva to the Death? 

Celeste: I would be happy if they walk away entertained, knowing that there is creativity and a variety of entertainment options in Singapore and of course that they had such a good time, they walk away excited to tell their friends about their experience.

Charles: I hope they walk away having booked more tickets for the next show date. (haha) Naturally, if they do that it means we have succeeded in entertaining and they would want their friends and loved ones to experience it as well.

Diva to the Death plays at Monti at The Fullerton Pavilion, 82 Collyer Quay, Singapore 049213 from 2nd February – 2nd March. Each ticket includes supper and 2 cocktails (or 2 non-alcoholic mocktails for non-drinkers), and are available from Peatix. On Fridays and Saturdays, guests can stay on after the show to continue partying as Monti transforms into The Hendricks, a 1920s-themed Jazz & Hip-hop club.

 

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