Our faces. The first things people see when they look at us (hopefully) and the mirror through which we convey our reactions to others and our emotions. As actors we rely on our faces to express joy, horror, sadness, and much more. It’s one of our essential tools.
So why is it that as an actor I feel I have little control over the damn thing?
Let me follow that statement by saying that yes, my face does work. I can move it any which way I want and can make it do whatever I please. I can even do big face little face:
However, despite all my years training as an actor I still sometimes feel like an amateur when it comes to using my face. When I get up to do a monologue (and believe me, most of my bad habits come out when I’m doing monologues), I may think I’m conveying one thing with my face, only to be told by whoever IS watching me that I’m “doing something weird” with my face. I have also been told I have a habit of making unintentional facial expressions when being directed.
This has been happening for quite a while and is an issue that I deal with regularly. So I decided to do a little detective work and investigate whether this is something other Aspies experience. After reading through various blogs, articles and books, a common thread seems to be that Aspies have difficulty conveying emotions, thus leading them to have a “flat” expression most of the time (I knew there was a reason I liked Wednesday Addams and Daria). When I first read about this, I was confused and a bit frustrated. My problem is not that I cannot express emotion, it’s that I cannot control my face when I’m performing. It’s almost like my face is an ill-behaving pet or a Pokemon that’s at too high a level and I don’t have the right gym badge (nerdy analogies for the win). Then something clicked for me and it all made sense. Aspies have problems expressing emotions when they’re in social settings, which leads them to render their faces blank masks. In my case, it is the opposite. I’m going out on stage and attempting to convey emotions that I personally may not feel. In order to compensate, my face goes into overdrive, and while I think I am expressing solemnity or seriousness, instead I have a self-satisfied smirk. Suddenly, it all made sense.
Now, I don’t claim to be a shrink or any kind of medical expert (if I were, I might not be writing this). But I know that a) I have AS and b) these unintentional facial expressions are something I have been doing for a while, but until recently have been in the dark as to why. Now that I’ve connected the two, I realize that this, like my AS itself, is something that I’ll have to be aware of every time I perform. The good news is, now that I’ve done my homework and made that connection, I can take steps to better prepare. I can practice in front of a mirror or video myself, see what I’m doing and apply corrections if need be. When/if I practice my audition pieces for others, I can inform them that this is an issue for me and ask them to keep an eye out for it. I can keep practicing over and over until I’ve trained myself and my unruly face to do what I want it to. The best part and the takeaway from all this is that now that I know, I can work towards being a better actor.