12 Jun ’13: To be or not to be…?

I read an interesting blog earlier about the chameleon-like tendencies autistic women have and it set me thinking about my own role playing in life.

I’m a professional actor/singer.  It used to be a full time job but since becoming a mother (another role for another blog!), I just work weekends in a band.  My husband is a musician and plays in the band with me.  He once told me that when we first started dating, he would feel resentful watching my outgoing, flirtatious onstage manner vanish as soon as we finished the gig and got home.  He eventually realised, however, that I put on this extraverted, overconfident character in much the same way that I put on my stage makeup, and that it was an entirely different persona from the woman I really am.  He no longer expects me to maintain this charade at all times and I, in return, try to remember to bring out this alter ego at times for his amusement!

When I talk about ‘performance’ in a gig situation, I don’t just mean onstage. The ‘performance’ begins the moment I step out of the dressing room to face the public. In that respect it’s not much different from my ‘performance’ in other roles (when I worked in an office environment, for example, or when I go to play dates with my children). The common factor is that I need private time to prepare beforehand and a lot of down time afterwards to decompress. It’s why I’m so obsessive about making sure we have a private dressing room on gigs and that I allow enough time to follow my ritualistic preparation routine. It’s also why I’m usually completely wiped out the following day.

We play at many weddings. Thankfully, the obligatory small talk with the bride usually follows one of a small selection of ‘scripts’, with enough predictability to enable most of my resources to remain focused on maintaining a plausible amount of eye contact. Recognising my client throughout the evening, however, can be troublesome because I also have mild prosopagnosia – a condition whereby I don’t use typical facial cues to recognise people (such as subtle distances between eyes, nose and mouth, etc) but other cues (such as hair, height, build and apparel). This strategy generally works ok but let me down recently at a civil partnership wedding between two men. In the absence of a reliable cue (such as the big white dress!), I struggled to identify either partner the entire evening and had to keep asking bar staff and band members to point them out to me!

As far as onstage performance goes, this is generally high reward for not too much effort. I have a large number of pre-prepared scripts, jokes and carefully rehearsed ad-libs to keep the evening running like clockwork. I’m an aspie who does actually seek connection with people and this is one way I get to obtain that, on mass, on my own ‘safe’ terms. I’ve been doing most of this the same way, successfully, for 10 years. The band is a slickly running outfit with each member playing their part. Incidentally, we reckon many of the members of our band are aspies (or at least have many aspie traits!). I think it’s one of the reasons why we work so well together. We are each obsessed with perfecting our part and all enjoy the buzz of connection as a whole. Just don’t get us started on one of our special interests! 😉

This heavy reliance on role play to function in every day situations is repeated in many other areas of my life. I see where I seek out roles that let me connect, but with clearly defined boundaries and purpose, thus reducing the need for the scary improvised small talk that threatens to expose my weaknesses. Weaknesses that include attention deficit, delayed auditory processing and inability to read non verbal communication. Through these structured interactions, I meet most of my needs for companionship. The connection with and validation of my authentic self is now largely met through closed facebook groups for other adult women with aspergers.

Next post: Let’s talk about…

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6 Comments

Filed under Aspergers Syndrome, Mimicry, Relationships, Role Play, Work

6 responses to “12 Jun ’13: To be or not to be…?

  1. Wow, thank you for sharing this great strategy and post! I longed to be an actor and singer for a long time. Finally I gave up because I though I could never be good enough especially with Aspergers. It is so inspiring to hear that it is possible and that you are doing it!

  2. Glad to have inspired you! Do you think you’ll give it another go? It’s never too late, you know 🙂 I think the hardest bit for me has always been having to work so closely with so many other people (backstage in dressing rooms, in rehearsals, the inevitable after show parties), but at least it was fairly ‘normal’ to be quirky! 😉

  3. Pingback: 2 Jun ’13: The day after | Signposts in the fog

  4. Thank you for this most excellent post.
    I have been performing for years. I stumbled into it at the age of 16 and haven’t stopped in 28 years. My childhood was spent confused and withdrawn, and I was bullied to no end. I learned in my teens that by putting on a fierce, seemingly confident public persona that people wouldn’t mess with me. A number of years ago I realized that it’s easy to “hide in plain sight”.

    I too perform on stage. I find that I can actually be vulnerable and intimate and connect with my audience, whereas I can’t do that in a social situation. Even in the office, I wear my “office drag” and get to pretend that I’m an organized, capable person…which of course I am…but only because it’s a role I can play well.

    • Thanks for your comment and you’ve really observed something very interesting when you say you can be vulnerable and intimate on stage, in a way you can’t be in real life. I completely agree with you on this and am now wondering if that’s because on stage, we are protected. We are in total control. We decide what happens. But in real life, we can’t do that (not all the time, anyway. No matter how hard we try!). On stage becomes a safe place for us, enabling us to lower our defenses and enjoy controlled connection? Hmmm, very interesting. Thank you very much for highlighting that!

      • Actually, I find when I’m on stage I am far from in control. All too often there is a glitch with the sound, or someone misses a light cue, or someone in the audience is talking, or there are a myriad of other things that could (and often do) go wrong. Yet, I still find I can gracefully go with the way things are (as opposed to how I expected them to be) without losing my power or composure. I don’t feel in control, but I do feel in command of the space.

        The reason I can be more vulnerable and intimate is that for the most part I have learned to go through life with my “personal volume” turned down, otherwise people run away.

        I am a very intense person. I don’t thrive on drama for drama’s sake (I like to save it for the stage), but I do have a very dramatic personality – whether it’s my complete and utter “over the top” (according to others) excitement over a sunset/sunrise/amazing cloud formation/wind in the grass or other natural phenomena, or my repetitive insistence that people be fully present if they want me to be present with them.

        If we’re just doing small talk then I am likely to just wander away mid sentence, without even noticing I’ve done it…it’s just not engaging my presence and I float off to find something that does. However, if you are sharing with me your story of helping your beloved elder through their death journey, I will be fully present in that moment, I will be compassionate, and hold a safe place for you, as to me that is what is real in this life.

        The fact is that in “friendship” circles, people can usually only take me in small doses. I ask penetrating questions, I don’t waste my vital life energy on minutiae and I know if you are not being honest – and I usually call you on that.

        My 3 good friends are all a bit weird themselves and intense, so we get along great and we have conversations that have freaked others out on more than one occasion – because we are being so freakin real! My partner is a good person, but I need to keep my volume down with him, otherwise he gets flooded and overwhelmed. He loves and appreciates me, but I am a very strong flavour.

        The reason I can be intimate and vulnerable on stage is I can be present there in full volume, with no filters. People will see me, and even appreciate my ability to take up so much space, rather than turn away in overwhelm, as they usually respond to me down in the mundane world. Being seen, and appreciated is a validating experience, and frankly it’s the only way I can truly be myself in my community – as opposed to running my social programs, which I will do for brief times because I am social in my nature.

        Also, on stage I can “speak” to the audience through archetypes, which provides accesses to much deeper brain patterns than can be reached by a simple conversation, in a loud room, as you are focussed on an unrelated outcome. I don’t just perform for ego gratification (there is some of that) but I also like to be mindful of the memes I’m invoking, questioning, sharing.

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