Let’s face it.
But what sucked worse was the unimaginable strain scores of essential workers faced across Singapore. That scratchy shuffle in the bus when Singaporeans spotted a nurse’s uniform. The pearl-clutching when the delivery guy handed them their food through the grille, or worse, the outright unneighborly attacks on essential workers.
Maybe I’ll take the next train. Maybe I’ll greet the food guy with pointed silence.
Were our claps anything more than an exercise in virtue semaphore?
With the treatment of essential workers vacillating between rampant hostility and uproarious celebration, the Second Breakfast Company, the theatre company behind this work, interrogates much of the societal apathy that has met the constant flux of new variants of coronavirus in their latest play, The Essential Playlist, and urges us to consider the idiosyncrasies surfaced by the pandemic in our society.
As part of its litany of works and numerous plays that destabilise similar social issues from family, poverty, or life at the fringes of our sunny island-state, The Essential Playlist questions what it means to follow through on our acts of service towards the essential workers amongst us.
Over the past week, artjam magazine sat down with the visionaries behind this spectacular craft of theatrical artistry, speaking with dramatist-director, Adeeb Fazah, and performer, Zulfiqar Izzudin to discuss The Essential Playlist.
AJ: Tell us more about yourselves!
A: I am Adeeb, 29, and the Artistic Director of The Second Breakfast Company. I’m a full-time theatre director and drama educator. Fun fact, I’m actually an NTU alumni — studied Communications at WKWSCI and graduated in 2017!
Z: I am Zul, 27, and I am a freelance theatre practitioner and a spin instructor in training.
AJ: What do you do for The Second Breakfast Company?
A: I’m the Artistic Director, so I take care of the creative ongoings, including but not limited to the selection of plays to produce, the casting choices, design choices, and overall direction of each play. Sometimes I write or adapt scripts for staging. For The Essential Playlist, I was both the director and one of the writers.
Z: I am a collaborator and this is my first time working with them.
AJ: Were there specific personal events that directly inspired the creation of this play? Can you describe your process of conceptualising the play?
A: I remember having a conversation with a group of friends after it was announced that personal mobility devices were being banned overnight in 2019. I was wondering what would be the negative consequences such a policy change would have on the food delivery riders who would have to react overnight or have their income directly affected. Meanwhile, my friends were praising the government for the swift action it took to prevent further misfortunes that resulted from accidents between pedestrians and riders. I remember not truly knowing the situation on the ground, as I was not personally in contact with any delivery personnel but watched on social media how food delivery riders tried to express their unhappiness to little care from the public. This was the starting point for me with this play.
Z: I kinda drew from my personal experiences as I was a delivery rider during this pandemic. The stories in the show were also adapted from real-life experiences from different essential workers. The process also included the team playing around with the idea of what goes behind the scenes at a content-creating company and being different essential workers. We found a lot of interesting moments which were included in the play.
AJ: What are some specific ideas which you hope your audience takes away from your performances?
Z: I wanted the audience to question their stance and actions towards essential workers during this pandemic. Maybe even question themselves before offering help to someone or a group of people.
A: I think the play asks more questions than it does answer. We hope it provokes a personal examination of the audiences’ reaction to the plight of people they don’t personally encounter on a daily basis. These are real people who exist around us with lives to lead and dreams to chase. What is our relationship with them in the grand scheme of things? Are we only helpful when it’s convenient? Are we willing to be advocates for other people’s hardships?
AJ: If you had to perform a certain work from those that The Second Breakfast Company has done so far for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
A: What a question! I genuinely don’t think any of our work has come to that level of timelessness yet. But if I really had to choose one, perhaps Family, which was our first main stage production back in 2016. It was a simple staging with a cast of 11 and a script from the 1990s about family, hardship, ambition, and inheritance. I feel like these themes will be relevant to Singaporean life for a long time.
Z: From what I have watched from them so far, definitely The Hawker from 2019. It was fun (I’m sure the process was too). It was different and I really enjoyed it a lot.
- Are there certain ironies you’ve noticed during the pandemic, that you and your team channeled in your performance?
A: I think the premise of the entire performance investigates the very irony of giving help. This idea of people giving assistance and talking about showing support and clapping for the essential workers. I think there are many little ironies to investigate in there, and I think through some of the comedy in the performance, we tried to include the idiosyncrasies in there.
- How does your performance urge a reconsideration of how we treat essential workers during these times of COVID-zero/gradual endemism?
A: You’ll have to watch to find out! In all seriousness, I think what we’re questioning is how genuine our acts of service are, and who they truly serve. Are we just virtue signaling?
- What’s next for The Second Breakfast Company?
A: We are working on a future commissioned work with prospective collaborators — to be announced. And we are also looking at a main season work in the middle of the year! In general, we will continue making work that speaks to our generation of theatre watchers.
- Finish this sentence: 2022 is a fresh start for…
A: A fresh start for all of us to be nicer to each other!
Z: It’s a fresh start for the artists all around Singapore.
The Essential Playlist’s theatrical run occurred from the 13th to the 18th of January as part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. Stay tuned to their instagram at @thesecondbreakfastcompany or their Facebook page for more updates as they conceptualise new works, and further collaborations.