In these strange pandemic days, there is much I am missing. Gatherings with friends and family where we aren’t wearing masks and can actually hug each other. Spontaneous trips down the California coast where my partner and I might drop into a cozy pub for lunch and a pint. And live performances of all kinds; I miss opera, ballet symphony, and most of all, theater. I had tickets to Hamilton at the end of May, really great orchestra seats that I was able to purchase at a discount. Sadly, the production closed when San Francisco enacted shelter-in-place. Our performance spaces are still dark in the city and I don’t know when they will host events. Almost everyone in the theater community is unemployed, and they don’t know when they will return to work. It’s tragic.
The dramatic arts are close to my heart. I’ve been a theater teacher at a large public high school, a performing artist, a costume designer, a set dresser, and so many other roles in the thespian scene. Years ago, I helped to launch a Shakespeare festival in my home town, working as the organization’s project manager as we secured our nonprofit status, then sitting on the board of directors. I was also the resident costumer, designing and building the wardrobe for several productions including Romeo and Juliet, and As You Like It. When I build costumes, I believe the hyperfocus of my ADHD is a neurocognitve advantage, as I can spend hours and hours sewing, beading, and building millinery. But, I often forget to eat, and get really testy when I am interrupted, which are part of the downside of having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
My favorite opportunity with Merced Shakespearefest was playing the role of Titania, in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. I love the lines Shakespeare wrote for the fairy queen, words that imbue the character with a fierceness paired with passion. Memorizing monologues and pages of text has always been somewhat easy for me. In many of the productions where I’ve been cast in a role, I am the first person off book. I believe it’s my grapheme->color synaesthesia that helps with learning my lines. I see all of my letters and numbers in color, all of my words too, which is a slightly different form of synesthesia known as lexeme->color. For me, my favorite of Titania’s lines look like this:
In a recent paper titled “A persistent memory advantage is specific to grapheme-colour synaesthesia”, Katrin Lunke and Beat Meier from Institute of Psychology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland document that a benefit through enhanced colour-processing is particularly strong and that synaesthesia can lead to a long-lasting memory benefit.
In my case, that color memory with synesthesia is so pronounced, by the time a production is in its dress rehearsals, I typically have memorized every line in the play. This is actually problematic, as my mirror-proprioception is quite active when I am immersed in performance, so I silently mouth every word that my fellow actors are speaking, especially the lines of performers who are in my sight. My directors have to constantly remind me to keep my mouth shut and to paste my face with a smile, a frown, a look of concern, or whatever is appropriate to the scene. It’s really hard to tamp down my mirror-proprioception, but I can can do it with enough concentration.
I believe that my neurodivergent traits have been advantages that support my endeavors in the theater community. Also, I recognize that so many of my fellow thespians are neurodivergent, from the Autistic girl in my advanced drama class who loved working the light grid, to the students with ADHD who thrived in an academic environment where they didn’t have to stay in their seats. I’ve met thespians who’ve conquered their stutter with vocal training, even when it shows up in other social environments, and I’ve appreciated the ways in which synesthesia has informed the theatrical designs of Anne Patterson, whom the IASAS was able to feature at our art exhibit Synaesthesia: what is the taste of the color blue?
These are really difficult days, and it’s hard for me to refrain from doomscrolling Twitter and obsessing over the pandemic and the state of the American democracy. I do believe there will be some fascinating dramatic art that arises from this time. Playwrights have long looked to tragedy to reveal human nature in all of its folly and glory. In fact, Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the bubonic plague outbreak of 1564. I am looking forward to reading the plays born out of COVID19. It gives me hope, a lime green word that hovers in front of my face as I write this post. It gives me hope.