We are all entitled to pursuing more than one dream! A clinical psychologist and the mother of a  ve-year-old daughter, Carmen Liu plays Jessica, the sweet class captain, in “Our Journal of Springtime the Musical”. In secondary school, she put her dream to become a singer on hold to enter the  eld of psychology. To avoid leaving any regrets, she decided to pick up her singing dream again while working as a psychologist: “I am determined in proving my devotion to both careers – to be a professional in both and not just dabbling in them for fun.”

Dream On

“Our Journal of Springtime the Musical” illustrates this very ideal of balancing personal dreams and a breadwinning career. Carmen’s passion for singing began in secondary school. After revealing her talent in inter-secondary school competitions, she signed a contract with a talent manager when she was in Form Seven and underwent training to become a professional singer. A record company offered her a contract when she was in university, which she felt she had to decline in order to focus on obtaining the professional psychology qualification – another dream of hers – so she could better support her family in the long run. Occupied with a US exchange programme and a psychology master’s programme, she had to temporarily give up on her dream in singing.

Upon graduation, Carmen interned in a public hospital for two years and then worked as a registered clinical psychologist for 14 years. While many forfeit their dreams due to the harsh realities of life, Carmen’s work at the hospital, however, rekindled hers to become a singer. “I worked in palliative care where I met a lot of cancer patients. At death’s door, many of my patients still strove to fulfil final wishes of their own or their family. Their strength was truly inspiring and thus empowered me to pick up what I had left behind when I still could. I started as a demo singer, then wrote my own lyrics and eventually released my first album, ‘Dream On’, sharing my thoughts and state of mind through melodies and words – a goal I had wanted to accomplish for a long time.”

Thankful to be recognized

Shy and introverted, Carmen used to only sing under her breath as a student. Yet, her music teacher saw her talent and signed her up for the solo singing competition at the Hong Kong Schools Musical Festival. “Among the four students chosen by my teacher, I was the only one who did not get an award.” She was bitter about the loss, but her passion for
music further blossomed after the event. She realized the amount of work that goes into a performance lasting only a few minutes. By observing competition after competition and singing in front of audiences inside and outside of campus, she was able to accumulate experience and make improvements. Under her teachers’ encouragement and guidance, her talent was finally recognized. “I meet a lot of young people at work who doubt themselves and want to give up when they hit a wall. I want to show them that a little setback does not mean failure. We can always work hard to improve over time.”

Bringing her life experiences to her performances

After she had made up her mind on becoming a professional singer, countless opportunities followed: she met plenty of musicians and producers, released a cover album and held many performances. In 2018, a friend introduced her to “Our Journal of Springtime the Musical” which had a successful trial performance and was holding auditions for public performances. Carmen, who had always wanted to try acting, passed the auditions and was cast as a background actor – the younger version of Principal Yim, and then in the 2020 rerun, she got to play the role of Jessica, the same lead role she is playing in this long-running version of “Our Journal of Springtime the Musical”, held at Boom Theatre in Kwai Hing in the frequency of six shows per week.

As a psychologist, Carmen is good at understanding not only her patients but also the characters she plays. “It has been encouraging yet challenging to be trusted with the role of Jessica by Director Tom. In comparison with another character named Nancy, Jessica is more reserved in expressing herself. She often represses her feelings to fulfil others’ desires and to meet her mother’s expectations. Playing Jessica again has allowed me to better understand her. I believe this character is designed to show the audience the significance of recognizing our own needs,” says Carmen.

The vast differences between careers as a singer and a psychologist have allowed Carmen to explore the endless possibilities life offers. “My job as a psychologist helps dying patients reflect on their experiences and lead the rest of their lives as they want. As an actress, I must fully immerse myself in my character and bring the story to life – a magical experience words simply cannot describe. I believe in the mantra of ‘actors should live life to the fullest’: my performance on stage is formed by my life experiences.”

Carmen relates to how her character Jessica would hide her feelings to fulfil others’ expectations.

Juggling two careers plus a family

“As I lead a hybrid life, my professionalism as a psychologist is sometimes questioned while some say I am an amateur actress. I want to prove my dedication to both careers as I value them equally. I devote my full attention to everything I do. I am not dabbling in both arenas just for fun.” To better juggle singing, her day job and her family, Carmen started her private practice two years ago for a more flexible schedule.

Carmen works as a psychologist during the day and goes on stage in the evening. Sundays and whatever time in between – to the best of her ability – is family time. “For a while, I had to cut back on new cases in my clinic so I do not have to compromise quality time with family, my existing patients and rehearsals. At first, I was conflicted since Director Tom wanted me in every performance. Thanks to the formation of the B Cast, I only have to perform on Wednesday and Friday evenings as well as Saturday afternoons now.”

Carmen is also thankful that she and her daughter have bonded over the musical. “My daughter is very interested in theatre production and loves watching me perform. Since ‘Our Journal of Springtime the Musical’ is a long-running production, she can visit me whenever she wants. We share a special connection through the musical: she cries whenever I cry on stage. She even asked me how I feel about certain dialogues on stage, which helps her develop empathy.”

Carmen’s daughter also enjoys singing. During a recent primary school interview,she performed a song from “Our Journal of Springtime the Musical”.

A shot in the arm: her daughter’s smile and her husband’s support

A successful and kind psychologist, a charismatic musical actress and a wonderful mother in her daughter’s eyes – Carmen takes a laid-back approach to her daughter’s academics and believes the right primary school will come. Her ways to de-stress are simpler than most people’s too: “I de-stress by singing. All my negative emotions are released whenever I sing; but it could be quite stressful if I lost my voice.” Her daughter’s smile is the biggest source of her strength after a long day of work.“ Albeit thehardships of the day, seeing her happy and healthy helps me deal with my emotions.” Carmen is especially grateful for her husband’s support as he has been spending time with their daughter when she could not. “I was scheduled to perform on my birthday last month, so my husband made a restaurant reservation to celebrate with me the day before. Right before the meal, however, I was requested to check in for work at the theatre to cover for an emergency and he was left to eat alone. He always understands how important my work is and is willing to give me space to achieve my goals. Albeit heartbroken about the situation, I was touched by his unwavering support. He told me that his efforts are worth it as long as I am doing something that I enjoy,” says Carmen. Her family members’ selfless support has become her wind to soar towards her dreams.

As a clinical psychologist, Carmen stands by the Circle of Security® Parenting™ programme. Established by American clinical psychologists Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper and Bert Powell, the programme teaches parents the means to better understand their children’s emotional needs, to teach them emotional management skills as well as to help them build a sense of security. First introduced to this programme during her pregnancy, Carmen is now a qualified coach. She believes that the programme can help parents understand their children’s behaviours and reactions. As a result, they will be able to respond to their children’s emotional needs to foster a better parent-child relationship and cultivate their little ones’ sense of security – an essential trait for children to navigate the world. Parents’ childhood traumas may hinder their ability to empathize with their children’s emotional needs – something the programme has reminded Carmen of when she communicates with her daughter who is sometimes slow to warm to. The programme teaches these parents to manage their mental blocks so they can recognize and respond to their children’s needs. So far, the tactics have worked for Carmen. Carmen believes that since each child is different, parenting can only be efficient should the parents possess the ability to read their children, and prioritize support and teamwork between spouses.