Some of the young leading men and women of Philippine Theater, Caisa Borromeo (Sa Wakas the Musical, The Vibrator Play), Topper Fabregas (Hair, Godspell), Yanah Laurel (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Kinky Boots), Reb Atadero (Monty Python’s Spamalot, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), and Joaquin Valdes (Matilda, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike), together with musical director Rony Fortich, have just formed a group called “The 11 O’Clock Project”.
The group calls it a passion project, a place where they can experiment with their musical influences and make it their own. They plan to launch the group at the upcoming One Night Stand Cabaret entitled One Night Stand: This is Me at 12 Monkeys Hall & Pub in El Pueblo, Ortigas this March 6.
The name, Fabregas says, is an homage to that big number in Act 2 which the theater industry knows as the 11 O’Clock Number. “It’s the song where the major character has a realization. It’s the turning point for him or her.” On a personal note, he adds, “We also did it because we all came together after having some sort of turning point and realization. It was like that 11 o’clock moment for us.”
“We’ve been doing this for quite some time with varying degrees of years and varying degrees of success, but at a certain point, we felt like we all wanted to be able to use art in another way and collaborate with other people as well.”
We talk to the people behind The 11 O’Clock Project about how it all started, what they’re all about, and what theater fans can expect of them. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How did The 11 O’Clock Project start?
Topper: Officially it started off with Yanah. She just kind of gave birth to this idea of friends she wanted to work with together to collaborate on music we all kind of liked. And so she spoke to Caisa first, and then they invited other people who they wanted to join this project. So it gestated for a few months.
It was really just conversation. We were talking about music that we loved, musical theater pieces that we loved, pop music that we loved. And so it was kind of birthed out of ‘Hey, why don’t we come up with a group, do something fun, and let’s see what happens.’ We kind of mixed everybody together. We all met one night over wine and we kind of were able to distill all the stuff that we wanted to do with it. It was actually Joaquin who said we should call this a project instead because it is a collaboration between these artists who are in the same place in their lives and careers at the moment. We began to just call it a project because it was just us coming together from our influences and our different experiences and just putting it together in one big pot and seeing what happens. It’s a passion project. So basically that’s how it started.
Caisa: I think the thing that’s actually really cool is when we formed the group, we got so many different ideas from every single person. Like it really is a collaborative process, which was what I really wanted from the beginning. That’s why we particularly chose the people that are here because we knew what every person was going to be able to bring to the table. And I think that’s what gave us different ideas of what we want to do.
Joaquin: What’s exciting about this group in particular is we come to rehearsal, we’re learning pieces, we’re learning harmonies, and it’s not just because we wanna sound good. It’s really because we enjoy each other’s company. And that dynamic is something you’ll experience when you watch us live. Because it’s no longer just about perfecting a sound. There’s an unseen or an unheard layer that when people love each other and they make music together, then that’s that layer that you’re gonna hear live. And that’s what this group is about. The harmonies are gonna be that more enjoyable because we love each other and we really enjoy each other’s company.
What kind of music will you be performing?
Topper: We mixed in together our love for musical theater, especially contemporary musical theater. There are also certain pieces that people haven’t heard of and we kind of want people to hear that and kind of want to share that with people. We also infuse our love for pop music and songs that really were of a storytelling aspect. So we fuse that all in together.
Where will theater fans be able to see you perform?
Topper: For now we’re launching with this cabaret. The good thing is ONS gave us the platform to kind of launch everything. If we’re being honest, I think people don’t know how to define us just yet. And so for us it’s, ‘Welcome to our show. Come see what we’re all about.’ And hopefully you’ll also have a good time and realize that that’s what we actually want to do. We want to let people just have a great time, put on a good show, and let people know that it’s an experience that we’re sharing with them as well. We’re all telling stories together, we’re all sharing this music together. and ONS is giving us the jumping off platform. There are possibilities for online and live performances after ONS.
If The 11 O’Clock Project could choose an 11 O’Clock Number, what would it be?
Topper: ‘This is Me’ from The Greatest Showman. I think we chose that because we were all at a point where ‘This is Me’ was really how we felt at this particular moment in our lives. We have been through so much as artists, as people, and we’ve reached the point in our lives where it was like, take it or leave it, this is us. We’ve accepted who we are.
Caisa: And I think it’s kind of been a nice journey to go through with this group of people because we are friends to begin with and we do share our experiences and we all go through the same things. I mean in this kind of industry, we do go through rejection all the time. Or we’re compared all the time. And it is the path we chose but it’s not always the easiest. So that’s kind of where we came from. We were like, ‘Okay, you know what, this is me!’ Like this is literally what I have to bring. I mean there’s always room for growth, but I mean, this is who we are. This is what I can do. Like this is what my voice can do. I can’t sing like this other person, or I won’t look like that person, or I won’t be able to dance like that other person. And I think that’s something we need to embrace.
Topper: We’re in this sort of profession where you can’t help but compare yourself. We all realize now that we’re a little older that I’m my own unique individual and this is the path that I have and why can’t I celebrate my strengths and realize those things that I perceived as weaknesses were actually what makes me unique. And together it’s even more unique because we find strength together.
Caisa: Especially in this particular industry, we’ll always, always, name the flaws that we have and use that as the reason why we weren’t casted or why we’re not getting the success that we want. And it’s been tough. It really is really tough and there have been so many moments where we’d question, ‘Why are we still here? Why do we still do what we do?’ But I think it’s discovering and realizing that these are the things that actually make you strong and make you who you are. Make you unique. Use it instead of making you feel worse of yourself or less of a performer or less of a person.
Rony: There was a point in time where, especially in Hong Kong Disneyland [serving as the company’s musical director for 12 years], I was trying to prove myself in the international scene, with other directors and musical directors who’ve worked in the US. I spent the first 5 years of Hong Kong Disneyland trying to prove a sense of worth. But it did get to a point, especially since I just turned 40 last year, that I’m definitely passed trying to prove myself.
Joaquin: It’s forever going to be a cross to carry. It’s a burden to carry as actors. We’re always gonna be insecure. We’re always gonna be unsure. It’s part of our narrative as actors. But then, at the same time, part of our narrative as actors and performers is there’s going to be this realization wherein you just have to learn how to accept your flaws and live with it.
The members of The 11 O’clock Project helped us curate a Spotify playlist with Broadway’s 11 o’clock numbers that mean the most to them. Check it out!
1. Caisa Borromeo- The Fire Within Me from Little Women
Little Women remains to be the most memorable show I’ve ever done. The Fire Within Me is performed in that moment when Jo had hit rock bottom and finds it difficult to move forward after having lost her younger sister, Beth. And in this song she finds strength by remembering her memories with Beth and her sisters. This song resonates with me so much as I had gone through the same thing when I lost my mom 2 years ago. This song reminds me that I can find strength from her who will always remain within me. It was also one of her favorite songs
2. Caisa Borromeo- I’m Here from The Color Purple
This song is incredibly powerful and awakens self-love. ‘Nuff said. “I believe I have inside of me, Everything that I need to live a bountiful life, And all the love alive in me, I’ll stand as tall as the tallest tree.
3. Joaquin Valdes- Being Alive from Company
Being Alive is literally a life song for me. My life choices have always been a constant tension between what my mind says and what my heart says. Going the safe route, or choosing the road less travelled; living as I’m expected to versus just living. The song presents questions and choices, some of which will never be answered or made. And sometimes the decision is the indecision. And the answer in already in the question. And accepting that being uncertain is perfectly fine.
4. Joaquin Valdes- Move on from Sunday in the Park
This song has gotten me through my darkest times both artistically and emotionally. Early 2016 I was in a depression that eventually turned into a crisis. I remember playing this song on loop for weeks. It was almost religious. I’d find myself in tears while listening to “Dot” console me through my rut. In many ways this song saved me and brought me to where I am now. Sometimes deflated but not defeated. Sometimes slow but still moving.
5. Reb Atadero- She Used to be Mine from Waitress
We all get disillusioned at one point in our lives. We may forget how we lost ourselves and that’s how reflection can be our salvation. It’s only from absolute darkness that we may find the light again.
6. Topper Fabregas- Good Mother (originally sang by Jann Arden)
Because it contains the lyrics:
“Feet on ground
Heart in hand
This has been my mantra for life. A reminder to always face the world honestly and genuinely, no matter how hard that may be at times. I never grew up feeling like anything even remotely close to beautiful. I always wished I was somebody else. I remember hearing these lyrics for the first time and something just clicked. BE YOURSELF.
7. Yanah Laurel- What I Did For Love from The Chorus Line.This song has always spoken to me as love has always been the anchor behind the choices I have made in my life.We are constantly faced with moments and crossroads that will determine or define the course of our lives may they be about our careers, family, relationships, etc.
In whatever the situation is, we naturally always hope to get it right, but at the times in which we don’t, I’ve learned to never regret making them because it was made and rooted from love and for that you cannot and should not ever regret it. It will always have been worth it, heartaches and all.
“Won’t forget, can’t regret, what I did for love”.
8. Rony Fortich- Get Out and Stay Out from 9 to 5
This would be my 11 o’clock anthem. We often find ourselves in situations we think we can’t get out of. Stuck. I’ve been there. Over and over. And one day I found this song and it taught me that I’ve always had the power to choose. To not be stuck. With its iron-blunt lyrics and glorious high notes, it totally helped me get there. “I’m taking back my life.” How else do you demand change than by saying that out loud and sustaining it for a hundred measures. I remember listening to this on loop and it honestly took me ages to fully embrace. But once I did, it has totally fueled me ever since. So for anyone who’s ever been stuck, this song’s yours.