The paiseh piece – the very last item left on the plate people are afraid to take, for fear of offending everyone else, and looking like a selfish person. As a result, that paiseh piece remains untouched, the sole survivor that is left alone. Could there be such paiseh pieces living among us, in their own lonely existences?
That’s the basis and inspiration behind The Second Breakfast Company (2BCo)’s debut musical – The Paiseh Pieces. Written and directed by 2BCo artistic director Adeeb Fazah, The Paiseh Pieces premieres next week, and follows three young adults, Tobias, Rina and Sara, as they navigate adulthood in Singapore.
“The idea was to put onstage something uniquely Singaporean, and also encapsulate the young adult experience,” says Adeeb. “Food is close to every Singaporean’s heart, and that’s how we got to the title. Especially when we were thinking of our own experiences and friend’s experiences feeling alone in the journey of life, it easily led us to more ideas on how to make this a uniquely Singaporean musical, and add that to the canon of theatre offerings in Singapore.”
For The Paiseh Pieces, 2BCo will also be collaborating with partners Wisma Geylang Serai (WGS), where they will be presenting the musical. “We’re very lucky to be partnering with WGS again, after our last project Geylang Serai Trails,” says Adeeb. “They’ve been very supportive, and their only stipulation was for the show to be in English and targeted at young people, as a means to attract a different crowd to the venue and introduce them to what WGS has to offer. Having that kind of support and framework gave us the confidence to embark on such a musical project, because it can be otherwise so difficult to mount such an ambitious work on one’s own.”
“I think they also recognised that our company speaks to a younger, more millennial demographic, and in fact, most of the people working on this show are millennials,” he adds. “A lot of that comes out in the writing, and it’s not like we’re purposely forcing in any Gen-Z lingo. These characters are full grown adults dealing with issues like housing and BTOs and their career, and hopefully the audience members coming in will see it as something entertaining while also speaking to them regarding their life story.”
Adeeb of course, isn’t doing this alone, with the help of a powerhouse creative team of theatremakers, including Nabilah Said as Dramaturg, Petrina Dawn Tan as Set Designer, Pat Jon Gregory as choreographer and Joanne Ho as Music Director. And in the case of a musical, some of the most important people are, well, the ones creating the music, with an original pop-rock soundtrack produced by rising star multi-instrumentalist and composer from Singapore, Bennett Bay, and with witty lyrics by up-and-coming songwriter, Stephanie Phang. If anything, it’s been a steep learning curve for Adeeb, who has yet to direct a musical. “There’s a lot I’m learning from each member of the team and it’s been nothing but supportive. We all look after each other and give constructive feedback, all with the common goal of putting on the best show we can,” he says.
On composing the music, Bennett, who is better known as a contemporary musician, takes pride and joy in the eight songs he’s composed for the show. “My job is really to make the music cohesive, and introduce and incorporate motifs and themes that make up each character,” he says. “I didn’t know much about composing for musicals coming into this, and it’s been very different from my own practice. Here, it’s been more of, Adeeb having the titles and general idea for each song, and I’d be coming up with the music and melodies, before Stephanie comes in to fill in the lyrics. We were all very much on the same page, and it’s been quite a smooth process.”
“In fact, from what I know, our own process is also quite different from a typical musical workshop process,” adds Stephanie. “We’d meet up every few weeks and run through our progress, starting with the point where Adeeb had his first drafts of the script, and there were still a lot of moving parts. I would ask Bennett to lay out what he was thinking about, like the beats and emotions he was imagining, as corresponding to the script, while simultaneously looking at the script on another page and notes from Nabilah. Then we’d find the middle ground and try to amalgamate everything nicely, before Bennett changed his music and I’d edit the lyrics.”
While the songwriting process was markedly different from Bennett’s own experience, there was a clear methodology behind it, while also sticking to his signature sound. “When we first started writing, we were mostly looking for how characters might sound as individuals, before figuring out how they would sound together when they interacted. That was hard, because the melodies and motifs have to gel together, while also making sure it progresses across the story,” he says. “We had several references so it wouldn’t sound too niche, but you’ll hear some glimpses of me, like the more folk type of sound, but as it’s a pop-rock musical, you can also expect more upbeat songs compared to my usual more indie style.”
“Because Bennett doesn’t have a musical theatre background, the structure of the songs is quite different from Broadway and West End shows, so you’ll see more indie and folk come in, like Colbie Caillat style, as well as more rock songs similar to Paramore. There’s versatility that will appeal to all listeners,” says Stephanie. “Meanwhile I was there test driving, and making sure the songs were singer-friendly, and editing the lyrics and suggesting changes to either make the notes lower or motivate them more.”
One of the limitations 2BCo is set to face could possibly how the music actually sounds in the space – Wisma Geylang Serai Project Studio was not a venue designed for musicals, and as such, does not have the audio capability of say, a regular theatre. “While we won’t be using live music, we’re doing our best to create a good sonic experience for the audience, where we bring in our own equipment and really design for this blank canvas of a room, and transform it into a studio black box,” says Adeeb. “Even with the limitations, I feel the songs we have are well-composed and have layers to them, making for an interesting a high energy experience. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning things to make sure it sounds great.”
If it’s one thing 2BCo always champions, it’s the spotlighting of new talent, particularly in the casting. “We had about 70 actors auditioning for the show, and we cast the net quite wide in a bid to find new talent. They had to choose a song to sing, do a monologue, and later on, do a dance call with our choreographer to see what they could offer. We had a lot of choice, because they really were all very talented, but ultimately we went with 8 people who best suited the roles, and especially for the ensemble, people who had the range and stamina to pull it off, especially considering how demanding being an ensemble member can be,” says Adeeb.
That cast comprises Gail Belmonte, Kevin Brendan, Nadya Zaheer, Fiona Chua, Misha Paule Tan, Rino Junior John, Sharon Mah and Tan Rui Shan. “All our cast members come from different backgrounds and training – Nadya for example, was from Lasalle’s Musical Theatre programme and is a teacher, so she was a very easy choice because she seemed perfect for the role,” says Adeeb. “As for our other leads Gail and Kevin, both of them are professional singers, and when they opened their mouth to sing, it was magical. They have technical skill and a lot of emotion, and both of them also work well and sound good together, and that chemistry is so important to look for during auditions. I’m excited for people to meet our cast.”
And of course for Adeeb, Bennett and Stephanie, all three also hope that this musical outing leaves a good impression and highlights their own talents to others. “There’s some pressure on me because I haven’t showed this to anyone else yet, and I have no idea how people would react to it,” says Bennett. “I hope people come watch the show and find a way to connect to something, regardless of whether it’s the story or the music. And if it’s the music, I hope the melodies stick in their head, and that it provides a first step for me exploring more such projects in future.”
“It’s my first outing as a lyricist, and I’m still surprised 2BCo brought me onboard after hearing my work writing parody lyrics for an Esplanade gig,” says Stephanie. “It’s a scary but exciting endeavour, because my usual style is just being cheesy and making fun of current affairs, but there’s so many more things to consider here, linking it back to an overall structure and making it flow. It’s fun and rewarding.”
Ultimately, this musical marks a turning point for 2BCo, as probably their most ambitious project yet, and the first major local musical of 2023. “It feels almost like a musical renaissance for the Singapore musical scene, and it feels great that we’re kicking off the season,” says Adeeb. “We have gathered so many hidden gems, and I think we’ve reached the point where we’re more than confident of doing justice to this musical. My own journey as a writer is still very new, and while there’s pressure, I’m applying everything I’ve learnt, and the whole team has been supportive and contributing their experience and great ideas as we developed this together.”
“I hope people watch this and realise that you don’t have to be part of the rat race all the time. Sometimes you can take a moment to yourself and learn to be true to yourself, to just be ok with surviving and being seen, because adulting means something different to everyone,” says Stephanie. “It’s ok to be on that path of self-discovery, and to allow yourself to ease up on the pressure, especially poignant for the millennials in the audience who are at this stage in life, like myself.”
“There’s a line in the musical where a character says ‘all in good time’, and I genuinely believe in how if you put in the work, success really will come in good time,” says Adeeb. “I remember the essential workers survey that got people angry over how low artists were ranked, and to me, I just think that if you keep working at it and make better art, people will eventually see that and see the effects it has. We can only do our best, and just like how 2BCo is putting all our effort into this, I hope it’s a show that will get people talking, get them back into the theatre, and being more willing to take a chance on the arts, and bring it back into their lives more willingly again.”
Photo Credit: Poh Yu Khing
The Paiseh Pieces runs from 8th to 12th February 2023 at Wisma Geylang Serai Project Studio. Tickets available from Eventbrite
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