A Q&A with Joyce Lam, founder of Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (VACT)
In Vancouver, we are thrilled to have access to such a great range of theatre. One of the companies we are so lucky to be able to partner with is Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (VACT). As we gear up for our 2018/19 season we are getting more and more excited about VACT’s The Ones We Leave Behind, Oct 24–Nov 3, at the Historic Theatre. We had a quick conversation with Joyce Lam, founder of VACT to chat about VACT, Asian Canadian Theatre, Crazy Rich Asians, and The Ones We Leave Behind!
You founded VACT 18 years ago; can you explain what the impetus to start it was?
VACT was started 18 years ago because I loved attending theatre and it bothered me that there were no Asian Canadian stories or any Asian Canadian actors/characters on stage when Vancouver had a large population of Asian Canadians. When a friend told me he had actually enjoyed an Asian American Fringe show at a BYOV, I thought it was a shame that more people didn’t get to see it and I decided to invite that show back to Vancouver. We sold out the show and found a “starving” paying audience for contemporary Asian Canadian stories and actors.
What makes VACT unique in Vancouver, and in the world?
At first, VACT, was a stepping stone to assist Asian Canadian actors to gain more acting experience/skill in order to level the audition process in getting acting roles. Playing significant complicated characters would be instrumental in developing the actor’s talents. Also developing Asian Canadian stories was invaluable to showcase how an underrepresented group was seen in Canada without stereotypes from other mainstream shows. VACT was also unique in seeking out material that reflected specifically on the North American Asian experience—how we live here today and how our cultural heritage played a role in our collective identity as a North American.
Since leaving VACT you have moved on to many other exciting projects; do you feel that VACT has continued on with the mission and mandate that you initiated true to your initial goals?
VACT has continued with the mission and even surpassed its original goals by raising it to a professional theatre company that showcases Asian Canadian stories with Asian Canadian actors locally to expanding its audience nationally and hopefully internationally.
I understand that you recently organized a group of people to go see the new movie Crazy Rich Asians. The movie is making major headlines right now for being the first Hollywood movie in 25 years to have an all Asian cast. How did you like the movie?
I loved the movie, Crazy Rich Asians! Before viewing it, I was secretly praying that it would have a good story, good acting & direction. After seeing the film, I realize my fears were needless. The acting was excellent, the story line was exceptional as the “ending” surprised me (and I don’t get surprised often). The direction was the perfect combination of romance, comedy and timing. What was surprising was that although I went to see it to support Asian American actors, it was a very good universally romantic comedy on its own merit that anyone (mainstream) could identify with. It was a significant rom-com because for the first time, I saw a romantic lead Asian male who was attracted to an Asian female and how each character brings their cultural backstory with them which I could identify with.
Do you think that theatre is ahead of film in representing underrepresented and marginalized groups? Behind?
I believe theatre is way ahead of film in representing underrepresented and marginalized group in a “real” sense because theatre is less expensive to produce and it develops a grass root foundation (locally) in acting and stories. Film is near impossible to penetrate without Asian representation in the decision makers. For instance, Kim’s Convenience started as a Fringe Show, then Theatre Show and now a TV show. These actors are now transitioning to film. In theatre, it is more forgiving to show stories outside of the “mainstream” audience and to reach out and tell individual stories of marginalized groups and make the characters believable and not stereotypical. With this realistic portrayal, audiences members will appreciate the story. Hopefully through inclusive theatre, we learn and eventually bring societal tolerance.
This fall, from Oct 24-Nov 3, we will be presenting, with VACT, Loretta Seto’s The Ones We Leave Behind. Are you looking forward to seeing it? What makes it exciting to you?
Yes, I am excited to see Loretta Seto’s The Ones We Leave Behind, as I am a fan of her other show Dirty Old Woman plus the fact that it is a female Asian Canadian playwright. I don’t usually research shows I see so that I don’t know what it is about. I like to be surprised when I am watching the show. I do love the title of the show, very intriguing. With the fact that it represents three underrepresented components: females, Asian Canadians actors, Asian Canadian stories in theatre …. I am highly anticipating its opening and wishing it box office success.