Halfway through rehearsals for its debut production, The Second Breakfast Company was faced with the problem of an actor withdrawing from the show, leaving artistic directors Adeeb Fazah and Mark Cheong scrambling for a replacement.
“We were lucky enough that the person we had in mind agreed to fill in for her. It’s not every day you get someone who’s willing to step in last minute,” said Fazah.
The production eventually had a successful run, as three out of the four shows staged at Centre 42’s Black Box in October were sold out.
Fazah and Cheong, both 24, are not letting their youth stop them from making waves on the small stage with their self-established theatre collective. The Second Breakfast Company, named after a “Lord of the Rings” reference to the Hobbits’ second meal of the day, aims to “serve up something familiar, but with a fresh take” with its reinventions of Singapore plays and Western classics, said Fazah.
“Doing "PAPARAZZI" really got me thinking, ‘Hey, you know what? I can start taking this seriously again.’”
Despite being put together barely a year ago, the company decided on veteran playwright Leow Puay Tin’s ambitious 1996 play “Family” as its maiden production. As the play had already been readapted by a flurry of local theatre groups – from the acclaimed W!LD RICE to NUS Theatre Studies undergraduates – the young theatre collective had some big shoes to fill.
The risk, however, paid off. Lauded among local theatre circles for their edgy artistic direction, the team behind the company – led by Fazah, Cheong, and three other friends – have seen some glowing reviews; most recently in local newspapers The Business Times and Lianhe Zaobao.
Out of the five-man team, only Fazah and Cheong are from WKWSCI – the rest graduated from LASALLE College of the Arts. The thespians met during their days at external theatre company Yellow Chair Productions in 2013, but left to start up The Second Breakfast Company after the former’s decision to restructure and focus on community theatre.
Cheong’s interest in theatre was piqued when he took Theatre Studies and Drama as an A Level subject, but he admitted that there was “a bit of a theatre lull” during his national service. It was not until joining WKWSCI’s annual theatre production, “PAPARAZZI,” as a musician in 2013 for the production “I Love You Because” that he rediscovered his love for the stage, propelling him to produce its next show, “The Beaux Stratagem,” in the following year.
“Doing “PAPARAZZI” really got me thinking, ‘Hey, you know what? I can start taking this seriously again. I can do something about this passion that I have for theatre, which always seems to come back no matter how hard I try to ignore it,” said the fourth-year student.
Since meeting at NTU’s Freshmen Welcome Ceremony, Fazah and Cheong have been inseparable. But “PAPARAZZI” 2014 was where the duo – as director and producer respectively – discovered the evident artistic synergy between them.
“School productions were a safe environment to try out new things, which allowed us to push each other to do better in our craft,” said Fazah. “It confirmed the working relationship between us.”
A Juggling Act
Taking on that amount of responsibility while working on their final year projects was “nothing short of insane” for the two, who constantly found themselves shuttling back-and-forth between school and rehearsals.
“Adeeb’s classes end at 6 and mine at 6.30. Rehearsals start at 7 at Centre 42, so sometimes we might not make it on time. We rehearse until 11, take the train to Boon Lay and catch the last 179 bus back to NTU,” said Cheong.
Having their hands full with the company made it difficult for them to spend much time with friends, but the duo credits their schoolmates from WKWSCI for supporting them through their artistic endeavours.
“They come to every show that we do. No matter if it’s a show for senior citizens at Geylang Library or a five-minute poetry reading in the middle of the day, they’ll try their best to be there,” said Cheong.
Theatre has also widened their social circle by providing them with opportunities to meet other like-minded artists.
Fazah recounted an incident that culminated in them befriending Alfian Sa’at, resident playwright of local theatre company W!LD RICE.
“Being able to say that this company is the product of what the five of us have worked towards; it’s something that I’m really proud of.”
In July, W!LD RICE staged the play “HOTEL” at the 2016 Singapore Theatre Festival. Fazah and Cheong wanted to watch the show as it had been generating plenty of hype among the local theatre community, but was held back by the pricey tickets.
They then decided to message Sa’at on Facebook on a whim to ask if theatre practitioners were eligible for any promotional packages. Sa’at one-upped them by offering free tickets instead.
“We wanted to look for (Sa’at) after the show to thank him for this gesture, but he came up to us first. We ended up exchanging contacts after having a very long conversation about our thoughts on the production,” said Fazah.
“It’s friends like these who we never would have met if not for theatre.”
Upon graduation, Fazah and Cheong intend to pursue careers in their respective specialisations – Advertising and Broadcast & Cinema Studies – but will continue running The Second Breakfast Company.
“Being able to say that this company is the product of what the five of us have worked towards; it’s something that I’m really proud of. It all started with me doing Speech and Drama in Primary Two, but look where I am now – I’m actually going somewhere with this interest,” said Fazah.
Added Cheong: “It’s not a common thing to say that you’ve started up a theatre company, because you don’t know if you’ll be able to make a name from it. So being able to say: “Yes, I’m crazy enough to do this, there’s a bit of pride in that.”
Looking ahead, the duo hopes to enter an original play into an international festival.
“It sounds very out there, but it’s not impossible if we continue working at our craft and improving ourselves,” said Cheong.
Their ultimate dream is for The Second Breakfast Company to be established enough for them to become full-time theatre practitioners.
Said Fazah: “The long term goal for the company is to come together one day and say, ‘Guys, we’re ready to do this. Let's set up an office and do this full time.”