Trusting His Gut: Adam Beck '86
Adam Beck ’86 tells two stories about trusting his gut.
Here’s the first one: On the verge of his graduation, when he was unsure of his post-college plans, Beck was walking through the library one day and saw a book open on a desk: How to Get a Job in San Francisco. “I abruptly ‘knew’ that going to San Francisco was what I should do,” he says. He ended up staying for several years, directing a YMCA after-school program and earning a master’s degree in theatre arts from San Francisco State.
And then there’s the second gut story, the real life-changer. Back in San Francisco after a Peace Corps stint in the Czech Republic, Beck came across an ad for teaching English in Hiroshima. “The job itself didn’t appeal to me all that much,” he says, “but, intuitively, a move to Hiroshima felt right.
“I tend to trust my intuition, even when it seems to contradict a ‘rational decision.’”
He’s been in Japan since 1996, making himself at home there in a multitude of ways. He met his wife, Megumi, through that first teaching job. He is involved in a project for Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum, helping translate hundreds of videotaped interviews with survivors of the atomic bomb, a project that in turn has led him to contemplate a solo theatre piece about living through the bomb and its aftermath. And, as an American with good command of Japanese, he’s been hired to officiate at weddings, part of a new rage for Western-style nuptials.
But Beck says he never stopped thinking about the right “form” for his larger blend of skills, interests and values. That form coalesced in 2002 when he founded Hiroshima Starship, an organization that brings arts and education opportunities to underprivileged children in Japan and beyond. It’s something that Beck says answers the biggest question he had been asking himself—how to create something whole out of his theatre training, his belief in nonprofit and voluntary organizations, his experience working with children and what he calls the obligation “to use my energy and ability for something beyond bringing benefit largely to my own brief lifetime.”
A trip to a children’s orphanage in the Philippines with his wife made it clear to him that he was on the right track. They got there on Christmas Eve, in time for a gathering of the staff and children in anticipation of Santa Claus. When the man in red arrived he gave each child a gift that had been specially selected by the staff.
“For some, it was the first Christmas present they had ever received,” says Beck. “Seventy children, from babies to teenagers, tore open their gifts, and the room was radiant with an incredible, infectious joy. I, too, received a remarkable gift that night. I was simply unprepared for the shock of compassion I felt when I spent Christmas Eve with these children. I became convinced that the benefit work I was embarking on, though it brought me no monetary reward, offered a reward that was far more precious.”
Hiroshima Starship’s program includes classes and coaching in English, arts such as candle-making, and translation and voice-over work, with proceeds divided between the organization’s operating expenses and its contributions to shelters, orphanages and hospitals. Beck is involved on the educational side as well as behind the scenes, reaching out to children’s institutions within and outside Japan, traveling to cement these relationships when time and budget permit.
“A theatre background is often scoffed at, in regard to earning a living,” he says, “but it’s invaluable in teaching lively classes and in delivering strong presentations. And being a theatre director has helped me develop organizational skills that serve all aspects of my work.”
He hopes to add a theatre element to Hiroshima Starship in the near future. For the moment Beck is content to let word about the organization ripple along the grapevine and to welcome the handful of offers of support that come in each month from Japanese and foreigners.
“It’s heartening, professionally,” he says, “and it’s also nice personally, in that my circle of like-minded friends is continually expanding.”