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.