“Many women find themselves torn between the desires to make a difference in the world and care for their families. Women pursuing their dreams are often criticised for selfishly abandoning their families. Yet, it is socially acceptable for men to prioritise their careers without facing comparable scrutiny. This discrepancy highlights a common struggle faced by working mothers.” From performing solo acts to carving out a niche in the theatre industry, stage actress Jen Lam hopes to shed light on working mothers’ struggles and challenges through the reprisal of GIRLS AND BOYS.

Tempted to give up all the time

The Chinese word for a woman getting married is a combination of the characters for “female” and “family”, which symbolises the lifelong bond between women and their families from the moment they exchange vows with their spouses. Modern mothers emphasise the importance of having me time because career women must juggle between maintaining their home, attending to their children and spouses, as well as self-care. They are constantly shifting their roles whether at work or home. With a decade-long pursuit of her dreams in the theatre industry, Jen has personally experienced these challenges as she evolves from a young girl to a dedicated mother of two. “From the moment I chose to study theatre in university, I have known that this career path would not guarantee financial stability,” reflects Jen. Thus, after completing a four-year theatre programme in the United States and Australia, she returned to Hong Kong and worked in public relations for beauty and luxury watch brands through referral by her family. Alongside her corporate career, Jen founded the artistic collective Riceballershk to explore the possibilities of women’s theatre in Hong Kong. Jen regularly performed in stage plays outside of work. Among the six solo performances that she has taken on, her selfwritten, directed and performed play “Happiness” has been the most well-received. This heartwarming production portrays the journey of a career-driven woman named Noel Tsang in rediscovering happiness and herself. Since its premiere in 2013, the play has seen eight successful runs, going from factory buildings in Kwun Tong to Shouson Theatre at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. Apart from shouldering the key roles of playwright, director and performer for each solo act, Jen handles all promotional and ticketing duties as well.

After eight years of working in public relations, she decided to quit without securing a new job as she feared she would be stuck in the same role for the next 20 or 30 years. Following her resignation, she continued to focus her efforts on the theatre industry, by taking an internship at the Edward Lam Dance Theatre and pursuing a distance learning master’s degree in Arts and Cultural Enterprise offered by Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. She also collaborated with Ms Sarah from the musical education collective Mini Cake Theatre to organise children’s theatre productions and campus tours. Around the time of the pandemic, Jen gave birth to two children. Her daughter is now five years old, while her son is approaching three. Nevertheless, she perseveres in the realm of theatre. Last year, she made her debut in GIRLS AND BOYS, directed by Edward Lam, translated by Wing Sze Wong and written by the British playwright Dennis Kelly. The performance received critical acclaim and earned her a nomination for the IATC(HK) Critics Awards in the category of Performer of the Year. Having pursued her dream for a decade, she admits, “There has not been a single moment when I did not think about giving up, because it truly is immensely challenging.”

Convincing yourself that your pursuits are worthwhile

“Since becoming a parent, I have found myself grappling with internal turmoil,” shares Jen. “The time I dedicate to rehearsals, painstakingly carved out amidst the demands of parenthood, is a sacrifice of precious moments with my children. Constantly questioning whether my dreams are worthwhile, I often wonder if being present for my children should take precedence. I am especially conflicted when my daughter pleads for me to stay before I head out every day.” Jen realises that many parents face similar dilemmas, where they must trade off quality time with their children for a job that promises a better life for the family. She emphasises the importance of consistently reminding ourselves that our pursuits are worthwhile. “If even you do not believe in the value of your actions, it becomes difficult to justify sacrificing precious moments with your kids. Only when you genuinely believe in the significance of your pursuits does their sacrifice hold true worth,” she states.

Jen hopes her actions can serve as a positive example for her children, so they can witness their parents’ perseverance towards pursuits they deem meaningful. “I often encourage my daughter to participate in activities that bring her joy, subtly inspiring her to chase her dreams. Pursuing dreams, in its essence, is doing what you truly love. We must take the necessary steps to make our dreams come true, rather than merely talking about it.” Jen believes that even busy mothers can find a way to do what they desire, such as taking a day to unwind. Nothing is insurmountable as long as couples maintain open communication and take concrete action.

A tragic tale of marital imbalance

Having devoted 10 years to self-written, directed and acted solo performances, Jen is thrilled to be cast in a play directed by someone else and performing from a translated script for the first time. She is excited to finally embrace the joy of being an actress: “In the past, I juggled between multiple roles and scrutinised my own performance as a playwright, director and actress. But with this production, I can put my wholehearted trust in the talented director Edward Lam. Our rapport has made this play even more fun and allowed us to explore our creative potential.” Jen received her first nomination for an acting award for her exceptional performance in GIRLS AND BOYS, marking a significant milestone in her career. She sees this nomination not only as a validation of her talent but also as a refreshing reminder to continue embracing new challenges with an adventurous spirit. GIRLS AND BOYS follows the female protagonist’s journey, from her early encounters with her husband to their marriage. As her career flourishes and she finds herself at the peak of success, her husband faces a professional downturn. The power imbalance in their relationship ultimately leads to a devastating tragedy. Jen shares the immense difficulty of her role: “This is my first time tackling such a poignant tragedy. Edward introduced me to this script, believing it would be a perfect fit for me. The first time I read it, I was shocked by the parallel between the character’s experiences and my own life as we are both mothers of two. The age gap between her children in the play is similar to mine as well, which allowed me to connect with the character on a more profound level. This production speaks not only to women but also provides invaluable insights for men. It addresses the unspoken dialogues and emotions that often plague married couples. Even my husband reflected upon himself after watching the play. As more modern mothers become the breadwinner of their families, there is a higher risk of marital imbalance. Many of my friends have faced similar challenges. This production does not preach but offers an unfiltered portrayal of the existing imbalances, encouraging audiences to reflect upon their own marriages. Some friends have even promised to be more considerate towards their husbands after watching the play.”

GIRLS AND BOYS has been nominated for the IATC (HK) Critics Awards in the category of Scenography of the Year. Its highly anticipated revival will be held at the Hong Kong Arts Centre’s Shouson Theatre from 19 to 28 January 2024.

Cultivating children’s artistic literacy from a young age

Although her passion for theatre did not stem from her parents’ influence, Jen hopes her children can have extensive exposure to various forms of art from a young age. She wants them to accumulate as many artistic experiences as they can, thereby expanding their aesthetic horizons. “I was introduced to theatre through my aunt, who worked in administration at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Thanks to her complimentary tickets, she took me to a variety of stage productions. The first one I watched was The Phantom of the Opera. I was only a Primary Four student when my aunt handed me a ticket and encouraged me to watch the play on my own. I was captivated by the brilliant production. During the summer break in Form Five, I enrolled in a drama class which sparked my passion for theatre arts. Eventually, I decided to pursue it in university.” Fast forward to the present day, Jen makes sure her five-year-old daughter attends her rehearsals before every performance to catch a glimpse of her profession.

It can be quite a challenge to expect children under the age of six to sit still and watch a theatrical performance. Jen thinks if parents intend to expose their children to the world of theatre arts, it is best to start with interactive and engaging children’s plays. “Only through active participation can children truly grasp the essence of theatre,” she explains. “For children below the age of six, their understanding of the world is primarily shaped by hands-on experiences. In my opinion, the best thing about taking children to theatre performances is that they can explore the possibilities of art fearlessly. My main expectation is for children to fully immerse themselves in the experience, as it is through active participation that they truly learn something new. This creates a contradiction between art education and Hong Kong’s education system. While our education system emphasises concrete learning outcomes, art defies such rigid expectations. Children’s aesthetic standards are built upon what they are exposed to from a young age. Art is an ambience: by encouraging children to accumulate rich experiences early on, they can begin constructing their treasury of artistic appreciation and develop their artistic sensibilities.”

The “worry-free family package”

The “worry-free family package” was introduced during the premiere performance of GIRLS AND BOYS. This novel concept allowed parents to enjoy the production while their children participated in an art and singing workshop. Both activities took place on different floors of the same venue, allowing the entire family to partake in artistic experiences at the same time. Recognising the struggle of parents to find someone to take care of their children on Sundays, Jen created the “worry-free family package” to grant her fellow parents some much-needed me time. “During our four performances of GIRLS AND BOYS last year, we collaborated with Ms Sarah to provide an interesting children’s art and singing workshop for more than 60 kids. Their parents were extremely pleased with the activity as they had not had the opportunity to watch a play since the arrival of their little ones. This thoughtful arrangement allowed them to enjoy an artistic experience without worrying about their children or feeling guilty.”

Date & Time : 2024-1-19~1-20, 1-26~1-27(8pm)、2024-1-21 & 1-28(3pm)
Venue : Shousen Theatre, Hong Kong Arts Centre
Ticketing : Buy Now