The Acting World: Autobiography Play (Part Two)

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  1. DECISION

Right! I’m now going to do this Autobio play starring as myself, but… what on earth do I do? How do I execute this piece? How do I act it? How do I direct it? What parts of my life are most significant and what might people be interested in? Do I do live or film or a mixture of both?

I discussed the key parts of my life with my co-director Mr P as well as my family. After much discussion we decided that my life before Uni was the way to go. Obviously, people at Uni only knew me as I was then. They had no idea about my life prior to the Uni course.

At that point I had a rough idea how I was going to perform this piece. I decided to make this mostly live theatre but to include multimedia and film. I felt that I could express my thoughts live but portray certain aspects on film. To me that was the most practical and sensible solution. Realistically speaking, I don’t think there was any way I could have done it. Mr Ian came up with great artistic ideas but I needed to do what I was comfortable with. Well… everything I was doing at that point was far from comfortable! Haha.

I decided what scenes I was going to film, what characters to use and who I would ask to play those parts.

With the cast chosen I then had to think about which scenes I would film and which I would perform live.

  1. OVER-ACTING

In the first two weeks I did find it difficult to play my character. I learned that I kept holding back when I was rehearsing so I decided to stop rehearsing altogether, choosing to act and improvise when I was being filmed.

I did this one scene where I was playing with my biro trains and Thomas trains where I would scream and get upset if my brother tried to join in the fun. I think I was ok but I wasn’t natural… I was extremely uncomfortable and I think because of this I started to over-act. It’s not easy when you’re 22 and you’re trying to act as you did when you were 4.

Acting as my younger self playing with my trains was probably the most difficult part of the whole performance. The scene wasn’t really done right. I couldn’t rehearse it as it was a challenge to keep it up. If I was going to do this then I had to do it in one take. My family members watched my scene back and they felt that I wasn’t being natural either. They watched me grow up so they could remember how I acted and behaved.

With much reluctance but being sensible, I decided that I should do this scene again, but in a more natural setting…I chose to do this, for the second time, at my sister’s house.

  1. EPIPHANY

There was a period where my confidence was low. I did start to doubt myself and my capabilities of being able to pull this off. Could I do it? I needed an inspiration from somewhere…

My university is actually based in a college. The correct term of studying that I did was Foundation Degree. Basically, you do two years of university work at a college but you do the final third year at an actual university. The third year is only optional though. I decided to take a look at my local university, with the thought of carrying on the third year, to obtain my full degree. It sounded ideal to me at that time. So, I went along to the open day and spoke to one of the course tutors with my Mum. We explained to her about my individual needs and what my strengths and needs were.

Her reaction to everything that we said was quite peculiar. She pulled a lot of funny faces and she especially made a quirky face when I said that I don’t understand generalisation. From that moment she started to discourage me from the course as she didn’t think I could handle it. There were going to be many social gatherings and she didn’t think that I could adapt enough to meet the course requirements. I was rather speechless at that moment…

I was a bit shocked on how quickly she discouraged me, and even went so far to suggest a writing course as no social interaction was required. Haha… I decided from that moment that I was not going to go on that course as the tutor didn’t seem open-minded and she did not understand people like me. Even if I did join the course I think I would have dropped out because of her. I was unimpressed with her attitude, and to be honest, I was unimpressed with the SLD facilities that that particular university had to offer.

After I spoke about my thoughts to my family and I had the chance for all this to sink in…a fire started to ignite in my stomach. I started to get annoyed that someone would pre-judge me and my capabilities without even getting the time to know me first. There have been people in my life who have doubted my capabilities, and I was always determined to prove those people wrong.

The only people who doubted me were the people who did not know me. They just judged my capabilities through papers, reports and assessments and probably what they’ve researched about autism on the internet. I wasn’t going to let anyone doubt me ever again. I was going to prove to everyone that I shouldn’t limit my capabilities just because of pre-judgement. I especially was going to prove to everyone and to myself that I shouldn’t limit my capabilities just because I’m Autistic.

I was angry. I was determined. I was motivated.

This was the answer. This was the epiphany that I was looking for. The confidence that I had lost came back and it was stronger than ever before.

And now, back to the Performance.

  1. NEW FOUND CONFIDENCE

I asked the National Certificate group to paint me a wall of a mountain that represents my personal journey. Me and Mr P went to their class and explained what we were looking for. At that moment Mrs V turned to me and said, “Are you going to tell everyone about you?” and I was like “oh my…”

I was so focus on proving a point to my doubters and to myself that I completely forgot that I was going to share with everyone about my Autism. Was this going to be a first time? Initially, I was very hesitant. I’ve never openly told this side of me to anyone, only a close group of people. I knew the National Certificates by their faces but I didn’t know any of them personally. How would they react? I took a deep breath and said, “I am autistic.”

I got a positive response. I was asked a lot of questions regarding Autism and how I cope with autism. It really warmed my heart and boosted my confidence. I even got a round of applauds.

It boosted my morale even more and for the first time in my life I wasn’t afraid to say that I have autism. I became much more open about myself and I generally became chattier with people who I didn’t know very well, which used to be an enormous challenge for me.

  1. FILMING THE SCENES

What was initially daunting turned out to be a lot of fun.

The football guys were wonderful to work with. I explained to them what my condition was and how I cope with it. Coincidentally, they were doing a course about bullying so I was actually called into that class to talk about being different. I never thought I would speak about my autism in front a bunch of strangers! And like the National Certificates, I got a positive response.

The football students acted out their parts very well but I must say that Chris, the tutor, was particularly outstanding. His sister has learning difficulties so I think he was able to relate to my problems to some degree.

I decided to include some of my family/family friends in certain film scenes. They were fun to work with.

The scene I did with Nat and Mr Andy was not very loud on film so I went to Mr M, who is a record producer that I know and a good friend. He had a studio so offered to help with the sound on the film. He was kind enough to help me out so I went over to his house and did the over dubbing. What should have taken a few hours took all night. We worked on it from 4 O’clock in the afternoon until 5 O’clock in the morning! It took me 58 goes to get the speech pattern right! Haha! We experienced all kinds of emotions that night but it was definitely an amazing night and one of the best that I’ve experienced. =)

  1. SHOW TIME

There was a lot that I wanted to talk about as this had been a really good experience. I had a lot of fun with many people during the filming. I decided to only talk about significant parts of the rehearsals and filming and how I over-came problems.

Next time, I will share my thoughts with you about going into the performance, during the performance, and after the performance.

Show time!

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The Acting World: Autobiography Play (Part One)

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It’s show blog time!^^/

  1. INTRODUCTION

This blog is all about a play I wrote and starred in. This play is about my life when I was small. I showed everyone what it’s like to live with Autism and explained how I saw the world from my point of view. However, before I talk about the performance itself I feel that it’s necessary to dig further into the past. By doing so, it will explain a lot of things and my past going into the performance. It won’t take long. I promise. =)

  1. BEING DIAGNOSED / NOT SPEAKING

I was diagnosed with Autism around the age of 2, when I was attending nursery education unit. It was usual for children to attend the nursery for one year. However, since I was part of the special needs area I stayed there for 2 years. The doctor who diagnosed me with Autism said that I my quality of life will probably never improve. I will never look anyone in the eye, I will never engage in a conversation and I will more or less be trapped in my own world. For a few years, he was right…

When I turned 5 I started to attend a SEN school. It was literally just up the road from my old nursery, so that was a bit of good fortune.

In my school days, especially when I was younger, I was extremely quiet. Because I was quiet and was unable to communicate, the teachers found it hard to understand me. Not necessarily because to be mean, more likely through lack of knowledge/experience. They would often talk about me and my “problems” in front of me, assuming that I didn’t know what they were talking about. However, I could usually read the situation by their facial expression and tone of their voice.

The majority of my school life was frustration. The frustration of not being able to talk. I think I was probably capable of speaking but I didn’t know how to. I think my subconscious held me back from speaking and interacting with others. I was able to string sentences together when I was 10 or 11. Before then I just spoke words every once in a while. I even started to open up my bubble a little bit. I somewhat started to understand how the wide world works.

Being able to speak was good and it did feel like a massive personal achievement. However, since I started to speak, it did cause some troubles every now and again. I could speak, but I didn’t realise the words that came out of my mouth. From a teacher’s point of view, whatever I said, I must mean. I have said a lot of rude things that I didn’t realise were rude or inappropriate. I never meant to be rude or upset anyone so it was a big deal if I did this. This is where the frustration came in. The teachers took what I said at face value. If I said it, I meant it. I could never explain my words or what I meant. So, I had to end up apologising even if it was all a misunderstanding. Situations like this knocked my confidence completely and discouraged me from talking.

That was all just one part of the problem.

  1. QUESTIONING MYSELF

I went to the Bobby Charlton’s School of Excellence that one time, and I must say that it wasn’t a happy experience. It was the first time that I interacted with people who were “mainstream” i.e., secondary school students. Out of everyone in the local area I was the only “special needs” student that attended the whole programme. It was a big problem for me. As I was the only “special needs” student attending, there was a lack of understanding, I feel, for people like me. It seemed that the coaches in general were more used to secondary students rather than special needs students and so they didn’t really bear this in mind. The secondary students were not very understanding towards me either. They often whispered about me under their breath and called me “weird”, even when they were right next to me.

By lunch time I really wanted to go home. However, my pride kind of kept me there. In my eyes I refused to be defeated even if I did feel everyone there was against me. I strived to be as good as they were. That special needs students like myself could cope on the same stage as them. My hopes were dashed when I scored an own goal…

We all laugh about it now, especially me. However, it was a very humiliating experience at that time. It was also from that minute on that I started to question myself as a human being. Why was I being treated that way? Was it because I made that mistake? Was it because I was weird? Was it because that I had “special needs”? I started to dislike being in an SEN school, I started to dislike the mainstream people and I started to dislike myself. Why was I born like this? Why couldn’t I’ve been “normal?” I saw everyone who went to mainstream school as “normal” and myself as not normal. Haha.

  1. COLLEGE SUMMARY

I left my school when I was 18.

I went to a college that specifically catered to people with “special needs”. It went under the title of Supported Learning Department. I severely disliked being part of that department. I was determined not to go to that college because I didn’t want to go to that department. Haha. However, my local college didn’t offer the support that I needed. I was then offered a place at a different college which had an SLD department. I attended the SLD department for one year. I was lacking a lot of confidence and spent the rest of my experience being reserved.

However, I attended a Mainstream programme on a part-time basis, within the same college. It was the Performing Arts class. I felt happy yet very anxious. Was history going to repeat itself? Is this a chance for me to “redeem” myself? My thoughts were very conflicting and it was a constant battle with my own thoughts. In the end, I decided to be quiet and neutral when I attended these classes. If I didn’t say anything, then I wouldn’t get on the wrong side of anyone. I promised myself to not tell anyone about my Autism. I maintained that persona for most of my college life, even later when I started to attend that Mainstream programme full time.

  1. OPENING UP

Things got easier when I started University, which was based at that same college. Usually, I would have to attend the follow up course to prepare for University. However, all the tutors deemed that I was ready to start a full University programme, and I accepted a place on the foundation degree course. =)

On the first day, with a fresh new faces joining the course, I decided to tell everyone that I had Autism. With discussions with my tutor we decided that it would be best to tell them, and strangely, I felt ok with it. It’s probably the first time that I didn’t hesitate telling anyone about my Autism. I opened up to everyone and to my surprise no one isolated themselves from me. That was odd, I thought. Was I perhaps worrying for no reason? Or, is it because some of the Uni students were adults and they were more open-minded? Whilst I opened up to my fellow classmates and gradually started to be myself, I still kept my guard up.

  1. FINAL PERFORMANCE PIECE

It was March and we, the Uni second year students, were discussing what we could do, as individuals, for our “Final Performance” module. I was struggling for ideas myself.

All I could think to do was to do these bunch of comedy sketches that I had written myself. However, I wanted a decent mark and doing these little sketches wouldn’t constitute a high mark. Do I turn these sketches into a lengthy play? It was a concern. Comedy is my forte, I think, since it’s a style of play that I am most relaxed in. Although I was aware that this was my forte and it’s for my final performance piece, I anticipated that it was going to be a disaster. I would probably have been over the top when acting out the sketches and too energetic.

I spoke with my tutor about my concerns. I then spoke with him privately about an idea that I came up with on the spur of the moment. I did have some difficult times at Uni but I did remain mentally strong in most of situations. I appreciated my classmates and everyone I spoke to for making my Uni life easier and happier.

I’m not one for being sentimental so I wanted to thank everyone but cop out at the same time. So, I thought, what if I did a video to say “thankyou” to my classmates and to everyone else who had supported me. I was prepared to open up about all my worries and doubts and how everyone’s support had made my Uni experience much easier.

It was at that moment, Mr Ian said:

“I think it would be amazing if you did an Auto-Biographical Performance of your life with Autism.”

 

…there was a bit of silence. It took me a long time for this suggestion to sink in. An Auto-bio performance? Like an auto-bio book but in play form?

“Like, talk about my life?”

 

I asked, but deep down I knew full well what he meant.

“Absolutely. It has been done before.”

 

It really was a surreal moment. A bunch of things entered my head. It wasn’t that long ago that I revealed to my classmates about my Autism. I was still iffy about revealing more of my Autistic quirks. Could I manage to talk about my past and experiences? Thinking about my past is difficult, let alone talking about it. How would I fair?

Part of me was screaming “go for it!” but there was still doubt in my mind. I decided to ask for family and classmates opinions; somewhat hoping that some of them would oppose the idea. I asked… all of them thought it was a great idea. The votes were unanimous. Haha.

I had to think about this for a week. I did get stress thinking about it. Was this a good idea? In one way, this may be a good chance to get a lot of things off my chest. Then again, was this going to break me? Doing a performance about my life was certainly a lot easier than forcing comedy sketches to be funny.

  1. DECISION

A week went by and I made my decision…. Am I going to do a performance based on my life with Autism?

…yes.