Having always been an experimenter in her work, Victoria Melody found herself with a late diagnosis of both autism and ADHD, and is striving to embed these in her latest endeavours. Currently touring her stand-up show, Head Set, around the UK, Victoria has perfectly explained more about her production, so keep reading to hear from her.
How would you describe your show and why did you create the piece?
Sufficiently disillusioned with my theatre career, I turned to my Plan B, stand-up comedy. However, in my search to find creative freedom, I found constraints and rules that I struggled to fit myself into. Keen to succeed, I found a speech and language specialist who, at the grand old age of 40, diagnosed me as neurodivergent. Cue a hyper-focused dive into dopamine mining, teaming up with a neuroscientist and performing with a Faraday cage on my head to explore the potential of stand-up as self-medication for ADHD. Head Set is the chronicle of my journey, a bonkers, hilarious and galvanizing celebration of becoming your authentic self.
How did the concept of wearable tech come about, and what impact has this had now on helping with your ADHD?
I thought that stand-up would be easy because I’m already a performer. I soon found that working from a script is different to thinking on the fly like comedians. They call it dying when you do badly as a comedian, and I was dying on stages all over the UK. I’ve always had a problem with language, for example, I told a man he smelt great, what’s the name of his colon?! It’s always held me back because I’m unable to find the right words and my memory is shocking, so I went to see a language therapist. This resulted in me being diagnosed with ADHD.
When I eventually started to get better at stand-up, I realised that ADHD is a lack of dopamine. Telling jokes, the exhilaration of it and the fear, releases that dopamine. Therefore, in my mind I found the cure! What everyone with ADHD should be is….. stand-up comedians! I then began wearing a headset that reads your emotions on stage and started to work with a neuroscientist to try and back up this theory.
Why do you think comedy has the ability to tell your story?
My work merges the personal with the political, and although it can tackle difficult subjects such as funerals, neurodiversity and impossible beauty standards, I do so with care, creativity, tons of humour and an ambition to make change. Art is a safe place to have difficult conversations and through the use of humour, we can laugh in the face of adversity and find comfort in our differences.
What have you found most valuable from your experience since diagnosis and working with neuroscientists, and what do you wish you knew sooner?
Women are often underdiagnosed with ADHD and autism because we are so good at masking our differences to try and fit in. I was taught by a comedy teacher that there are rules and formulas to writing jokes and whilst I was conforming to this structure, I was dying on stage. Head Set shows us that there is the way we present ourselves, but then there is also what makes us spontaneously and uniquely funny. It’s about capitalising on our particular strangeness.
Discussing topics not typically spoken about, and with your drive to change society for the better, what is your biggest goal with this ambition?
Just like books, theatre shows have a central question that the show tries to answer. The central question in Head Set is "Is it possible to behave in a way that society doesn't expect, allow or encourage, and still be accepted?". I want audiences to walk away from this show with an action to become their authentic selves and love what they find. Be that join an English Civil War Society, like I just have, or wear your slippers on the bus. Whatever you want (as long as it’s safe and legal), just go and bloody do it and experience how good it feels to do ‘you’.
What do you feel has been your biggest achievement, or proudest moment through your work?
For my work I embed myself into communities for years, like I’ve been in the pigeon racing world for 15 years now and I meet all these incredible characters. I wanted to find a way to give these voices a platform. I’ve always felt it’s been a privilege to be invited into these communities and so with their permission, I found a way to let the public in.
For Brighton International Festival this year I created an immersive audio experience for audiences in the Brighton pigeon lofts (we also did an immersive audio experience in a Funeral Directors as part of the Festival). The team and I gave out headphones and the audiences were free to roam wherever they wanted whilst listening to beautiful, moving, funny and vital audio from communities who are on the brink of change. With the pigeon audio, yeah it’s a bit about pigeons, but it’s actually about the wider society, Brexit – it’s too expensive to send their birds overseas, cost of living crisis, climate change etc. Pigeons are losing their homing instincts and they don’t know why.
It was such a proud moment for me because not only did audiences love it, but so did the collaborators themselves. Like the pigeon fanciers, they loved it because it is mainly older generations and young people aren’t joining the sport, so unless something changes, this way of life is going to disappear. It created a genuine legacy between the community and the city.
What is your message to neurodivergent people about embracing their identity?
I couldn’t keep masking. I owed it to young Vic, to my true self not to do that again. A funny thing happens when you choose that as a neurospicy person. Things seismically shift.
I stopped measuring success by a measure that wasn’t mine. I’m that kid who loved putting all the food tin labels facing the same direction and had meltdowns at injustice.
I wonder how many other little Vic’s have tried to force their brains into the wrong hole, have followed what others thought the path, measured themselves up against the wrong graph of success. Hid things to save ridicule.
I’m funny. Maybe not in a conventional way, maybe in an odd way, a weird unique ‘other’ way with a different and nobbly brain. But all these rules don’t include everyone. And I want to live in a world that does. I am different!
Success can only ever look like living the truth. Divergent and messy brain included.
Huge thanks to Victoria for your brilliant insight on this, and best of luck with the run of the show!
Head Set is on tour around the UK until 11th November.
Check dates and get your tickets here:
Additional thanks to Annabelle Mastin-Lee for coordinating this interview.