Design of my Performance piece at ADDA 2013 Conference

Last year, I wrote and performed a piece about Adult ADHD for my Performance class at Eastern Michigan University. This weekend, I made some modifications and performed it at the ADDA conference in Detroit.

The original piece ran about 10 minutes and included several different “Mikes”, props, looped music, and a narrator. I reworked it to fit into a 5 minutes time slot and added some new features. Each feature was calculated to present aspects of adult ADHD that are not widely known. The casual perception includes “distractibility”, “inability to complete tasks”, “difficulty keeping a job”, and others.

I developed my piece to highlight other aspects. In particular, I wanted to focus on the emotional toll ADHD can have on adults. The list below lists the different emotional states I was trying to portray in the performance.

The performance itself was recorded and is available on my YouTube channel at:

Some decisions I had to make up front:

First and foremost, the overall structure. In the original piece, I was juggling teaching philosophy and art with managing my own slide show, and restacking books and papers before starting. I also used an electric guitar and loop box to create a background sound track.

To shorten the piece and reduce the need for tech, I decided to keep the “arriving late” opening, but use my song “Wonder Drug” instead of the overly complex beginning. I felt that using “Wonder Drug” would effectively misdirect the audience into thinking this was simply “a guy doing a song he wrote”.

The phone call interruption is the lynch pin of the whole piece. I changed my tech and used an alarm on the phone rather than asking someone to call. I didn’t want to be exposed to the risk of bad cell connection or some other technical glitch.

I kept the frustration and self-doubt after the phone call. I modified the ending to add some audience involvement. I also added an explanation at the end and a solicitation for the audience to share stories.

The following list of “movements” explains how each of them ties to the topic of adult ADHD:

Movement 1 [time management problems: arriving late or on the wrong day]: The piece began the same way as the original. The emcee (who was in on the joke) called for me several times before I came to the stage. I yelled from the back of the room “Oh, it’s TONIGHT?”

Movement 2 [unprepared or making adjustments right to the last minute]: when I got on stage, I needed to set the alarm, so I took advantage of that and exaggerated the motions so I would appear I was “winging” things at the last minute.

Movement 3 [impulsivity]: As far as I was concerned, the “impulsivity” joke was the critical moment in the performance. If the audience wasn’t with me at that point, the rest was going to be very dicey. I rehearsed several different ways to deliver the line. The timing of the pause, the hand gesture and the delivery of the line had to be just right.
I had prepared a fallback in case nobody laughed. I would say that I was walking to the performance in my suit when I saw this outfit in the window of a store. I went in and bought it, thinking “yeah, this is it!”

If they weren’t with me at that point, the rest of the performance would very possibly fail.
I chose the outfit for several reasons. Some could be read as contradictory but that’s all right, this is a part of the performance I wanted to be more impressionistic than pedagogical.

One simple reason was that I wanted to make a strong impression on the audience. I think that was successful.

Another was simply to portray a very bad decision made impulsively.

But, it also reflects the fact that WE ARE DIFFERENT. I decided to be unapologetic. I made the decision and stuck with it.
I had experimented with several different outfits. One was a formal business suit, which would contrast with the folk song and disorganization. I didn’t feel this was a powerful enough statement.

Another was a tie died t-shirt with hippie wig and jeans, but again, it didn’t seem extreme enough.

I had the zentai outfit around from a Halloween party and decided to try it. I thought about putting a suit over it and removing it during the act, wearing shorts and a top, pulling the mask over my head or not, hat or no hat, etc. In the end, I found that particular combination – fedora, ADHD T-shirt and sandals, worked best for me visually.
Movement 4 [unprepared]: One draft of the script called for me to draw attention to the fact that the guitar strap was a pair of panty hose. I hadn’t packed a guitar strap and all I could find in the CVS that would work was panty hose. I dropped the line realtime, I thought it would have disrupted the flow.

Movement 5 [lack of attention to detail] and
Movement 6 [temper – easily frustrated]: There was no mechanism for projecting slides, and I decided to take advantage of that lack. I wrote a piece into the script in which I pretended to expect slides, then blamed it on the tech, swore, and threw the remote across the room.
Movement 7 [actual performance]: I needed to setup the phone call/interruption and chose to use my song “Wonder Drug”. I felt the audience would understand it. My script called for me to note that “I am not opposed to drugs, just side effects” but again, the line didn’t seem necessary as they already seemed on-board with the piece.

Movement 8 [don’t handle interruptions well]: this is the key moment in the piece. In the middle of the performance, I get a phone call from someone outside. I don’t specify who it is, I don’t think it’s necessary. Most likely, a S.O. I used the timer on the phone set to 2 minutes, knowing it would interrupt me about at the end of the 2nd chorus.
I had a backup in case I forgot to turn on the timer or it failed. Matt (organizer of the Ann Arbor ADHD support group) had agreet to call me if I got to the third verse. The alarm rang as needed.
I exploded and yelled at the caller.
Movement 9 [guilt – “it’s my fault”]: during the phone call, my mood changes from anger to guilt. I tried to make it clear that I’d put the event on a common calendar and the SO should have known. But still, I accepted the blame.
Movement 10 [feelings of inadequacy, low self esteem]: after the interruption and the guilt, I turn inward and expressed deeper feelings that I never should have been on stage anyway, the material is weak, etc.
At this point, my goal was to set up the ending. I wanted to add an audience participation component, so I modified the script to do a direct call-out to the audience.  I added the line “This is the part where someone says something encouraging to me.” It seemed clear to me from the sessions I’d been in earlier that day that the audience could be counted on to play along.
I expected they might or might not respond, so I planned for both cases. If they did respond, I’d snap back at them in anger (“you ruined my plans!”). If they didn’t, that was fine and I would go forward to my next line, setting up the line I’d arranged to have Matt deliver.
In performance, however, this took an unexpected turn. There was a massive “awwww” from the audience when I expressed my feelings of inadequacy. I pushed ahead with the original script. I delivered the line “This is the part where someone says something encouraging to me”.
The audience surprised me again. At 4:32-4:58, they were calling out suggestions and ideas.

There were too many at the same time for me to make much sense of them (sadly! I’m curious!), so I ad-libbed a transition and got back to my original line “this is the part where MATT is supposed to say something encouraging.”
Movement 11 [lack of follow through]: The final step in the piece is for me to fail one lasttime, Matt’s line indicates that I never delivered his copy of the script to him.

At that point, I break character and become Narrator again.
I chose to use the opportunity to let them know a little about the project and ask them to send me stories for future performances. This was a difficult decision and I’m still not certain it was the right one. On one hand, there was my desire to build community by sharing stories. But on the other hand, it felt quite self-serving, as if the performance was a prelude to the request. I opted to do it rather than not. I feel the piece can be a good education tool and this might be my only chance to have it up in front of an audience who would “get it”.


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