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“Firefly In The Light” – An Interview With Shayna Toh

November 8, 2014

FireflyInTheLight1Event: Firefly in the Light
Venue: The Arts House (Chamber)
Date: 15th Nov 2014

We are grateful to team behind the upcoming musical “Firefly in the Light” for granting us an interview with bookwriter, composer and lyricist Shayna Toh.

Shayna is a seventeen-year-old student of Raffles Institution who’s had multiple accomplishments in the field of composition, scoring and even script-writing.

She has been advancing her music composition studies under Dr John Sharpley from 2011 till present, and has had had several stories published, including “Roaching Into My World” (2008), one of twelve stories published (sponsored by Shaw Foundation) towards the SPH School Pocket Money Fund.

She also authored “The Adventures of Cassie the Caterpillar” a children’s book on urban nature deficit, in 2013.

Shayna made her first foray into the theatre at eleven, when her script “Where Your Dream Takes You” (one of twelve best plays for the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s (SRT) “The Write Stuff” nationwide playwriting competition) directed by SRT’s Director, Michael Corbidge was performed by actors from SRT and MediaCorp in DBS Arts Centre (2008).

In Nov 2011, she interned with Dream Academy, scoring music for the orchestra of “Into The Woods” Musical.

As a musical theatre vocalist herself, she has been selected to perform her winning entry, Claude-Michel Schönberg’s “I’d Give My Life For You” (from Miss Saigon) at the American Protégé International Vocal Competition Winners’ Recital Concert come Dec 2014 in Carnegie Hall, New York.

“Firefly in the Light” is Shayna’s debut full-length pop musical to be staged.

Q: How did the story for “Firefly in the Light” come about, and how long did it take you to write the entire musical?

A: The story of “Firefly in the Light” came from a pop song I wrote at fourteen, called “Left Behind”, about a boy and a girl who were childhood friends with similar dreams but who ended up taking different roads. Although I had this idea back in 2011, I brought it up only around March this year. I then settled on a synopsis, wrote 12 songs for a good five to six months in between my school work (I’m so slow, it’s so embarrassing), and I tied the story together through the script somewhere in September.

Q: How much of a challenge was it to write the book as well as all the songs?

A: Writing both the book and the songs has its pros and cons. The bad thing is that it’s more work! But it’s good because you’re clearer of the direction you want the story to take, and the details in the dialogue which can be fleshed out in the songs, or vice versa. I knew what to include in the dialogue and what to leave to the songs. When I was finalizing the synopsis and plot for “Firefly in the Light”, I would label some parts “insert song here”, so tying everything together was clearer for me. Also, writing both the book and the songs helped me gain a more holistic view of each character, and it helped me with characterization, and their voice, and such.

Q: What is your songwriting process like? Which comes first for you, the music or the lyrics?

A: I think they came consecutively. Before I started writing each song, I had a note as to what each song was about, and what I planned on accomplishing/ revealing by the end of it. I worked on the lyrics and the music very closely. Melody lines often complement the lyrics, with the highs being used for points of emphasis and such, and figuring the lyrics out at the same time as the melody allowed me to change the melody line to better suit the lyrics, and stuff like that. For each song that I wrote, I also tried to discover the song by going into the character’s mind, which resulted in the character going through a series of emotions, or taking time to get to their self-realization.

Q: Who are some of your biggest songwriting influences? What are some of your favourite musical theatre works?

A: In the musical genre, definitely people like Jonathan Larson and Stephen Sondheim. Their music is so clever and sharp and the way they pushed the bar of what it means to write a musical really inspired me. My biggest pop songwriting influences are along the likes of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, but also bands like Vampire Weekend or Green Day. They’re acts I’ve grown up with for years and they’ve influenced me through my life. It’s also been really cool to see their musical journeys and how their songwriting constantly evolves.

I have so many favorite musicals it’s not even funny, but I’d have to say that my top five right now would probably be “Les Miserables”, “Newsies”, “RENT”, “Next to Normal” and “Cinderella”. There isn’t really a common thread but I admire how each work is so powerful in its own right- like how “Newsies” is so electrifying and hopeful, “RENT” is so gritty and honest, and “Cinderella” is so magical.


Thank you for your time Shayna, and we wish you all the best in the upcoming show!

Show Duration: Approx. 1hr 45 mins (with 15 mins interval)
Ticket Purchase: SISTIC Link (here)

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