Next week I’ll be performing 213 Things About Me at the Battersea Arts Centre, a show that tells the story of an autistic woman who committed suicide at the age of thirty six. Although it’s certainly tragic, 213 is also a dark comedy. The woman who the character is based on, Rose, was very witty and wry. Her perspective on the world was unique and she had a knack for pointing out the nonsensical absurdities in society we take for granted.
I’ve spent the last few months trying to get into the head of a woman who I never met. Rose lived in America, and although she was scheduled to visit the UK in January of 2014, she died before our paths crossed. The writer/director of the play is Richard Butchins, who is himself on the spectrum. The play is an expression of how a neurologically atypical mind functions; Rose was gifted, with the ability to speak several languages and play many instruments. In fact, she could see music; there was geometry inside melodies that made sense to her. Her abilities and made her remarkable.
Although I’m not autistic, I understand what it means to feel like an outsider. I do a fairly good job of putting up a ‘normal’ façade, which is necessary to get along with in the world. However, I’ve always felt as though I think differently from other people. I don’t mean that my cognitive process is superior to that of others; it isn’t. I’m very dyslexic, which made school problematic and my grades often didn’t reflect the effort I put into my work. When we were tested on spelling or maths, I could not understand the way questions were formulated. It seemed boring, predictable. My mind would wander to something more creative and my test results would be the lowest in the class. It was frustrating because I felt that the way my brain processed things didn’t fit with what was expected of me. For years I just assumed I was stupid. I see now that the limitations of the classroom and the curriculum made it difficult to accommodate the way my mind worked.
I also have Bipolar, which adds to a perpetual sense of otherness. I know that my condition can lead to cognitive distortion, and my perception is sometimes dependent on where I am in the bi-polar cycle. However, there are plus sides to everything and although I don’t think that one needs to suffer to be an artist, living into extreme lows and highs can prompt the imagination in unexpected ways.
My hope is 213 shows a more nuanced, informed depiction of Autism than is usually found in popular culture. Although Rose was completely unique, I think there is much about her experience that speaks to everyone. Perhaps with greater understanding from society at large, people like her will find it easier to cope.
Click here to book tickets for 213 Things About Me.