Fulfilling a Dream in Theater

By Amy Grace Lam

Back to the Source is A.C.T.’s annual week-long professional development program that invites educators to immerse themselves in the transformative power of performance. Taught by A.C.T. professional artists, faculty from our conservatory, and national leaders in arts education, this comprehensive course is a chance for teachers to take creative risks, bring new insight to their classroom practices, and ignite their passion for theater. Amy Grace Lam, a poet and community advocate who works at Community Health for Asian Americans in Oakland to empower immigrant and refugee communities to tell their own stories, participated in Back to the Source last summer, where she rekindled her own passion for theater.   

As an immigrant kid, words associated with performance, music, and the arts were “you can’t, you won’t, you shouldn’t.” I still have a vivid sixth-grade memory of my mom making me cut one of my three music classes in order to focus more on academics.  

Over the years, the performing arts became that extra special yummy dessert I treated myself to once in a blue moon. The kind you save up for months on calories just so you can fully enjoy the few moments of full richness and taste. The arts would only be a guest at my kitchen table.

And then last summer I was given the incredible opportunity to be part of A.C.T.’s Back to the Source educator institute. I broke the rules handed to me by the pragmatic, restrained values of my Chinese culture. I indulged in a full week of voice, physical play, improvisation, and song. I was told, “Yes, and wilder, go farther, be bolder!”

No one had ever given me permission to be myself and more. In pushing myself to be wilder, go farther, be bolder, I found that little girl inside who said, “Yes! This is home.”

The day after our ensemble’s final performance, I talked to my mom in China. She could hear the excitement in my voice as I told her about writing a song and performing it onstage at The Geary Theater. She laughed and said, “Did you know my first love was dance and acting?” She proceeded to tell me for the first time ever about her secret passion that had been extinguished because of the limitations of circumstance: a girl with polio living in poverty during the era of Communist China.

I listened with amazement as her story unfolded to the present with my week at A.C.T. Despite all these challenges, life had not given up on my mom. The dream she had as a child had buried itself deep inside my soul and grew in a soil rich with opportunity until it could lift its head above the ground.

At the start of the summer, I thought my fearless summer was defying my family and not asking others for permission. Instead I learned being fearless meant fully embracing myself and answering a call that was speaking to me from before I was born, a call from a dream given to my mom that would not give itself to fear.

Applications for Back to the Source 2016 are due March 24. For more information and to apply, visit www.act-sf.org/backtothesource.

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