The very first ADHD Conference I attended was in 1990 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. ADHDers, being the creative souls we are, often have special talents and many of the people attending were musicians. Throw a bunch of musicians together and they’ll soon be jamming. Make it ADHD musicians and it gets wild! We had a jam session that first conference under the stairs in the hotel lobby in the middle of the night!
Soon there were six or seven of us and we moved to a small room with a stage and microphone and played for a “crowd” of about thirty people. We put on a great show, but I realized the most important part of what we were doing was how much it meant to the performers. We opened it up to everyone. If you had ADHD and attended the Conference, you were in the band!
Most people were amateurs and some were very, very nervous. But music, skits or poetry, performing is a big part of who they are. Sari’s message has always been to do what you’re great at. Spend as much time as possible doing what you’re good at and as little as possible trying to shed what you’re not good at. The Talent Show became their chance to walk the talk. It proved so popular that the next year they made it part of the event, with a bigger room, a stage and a budget. We invited all the attendees and everyone showed up!
ADHDers are a creative bunch. There’s no shortage of talent. But the confidence to perform? That’s more of a challenge. Most didn’t have the performance chops yet. The Talent Show became the first time this group of creatives expressed themselves in a safe environment.
The best part of every show is always someone’s first performance. They’re nervous, I know they’re nervous, the crowd can feel it, but they perform anyway. The crowd is always supportive.
We’ve had lots of tears on stage. For the participants, being around their ADHD “tribe” is a healing experience. The Talent Show became a healing experience for both the performer and the audience.
The audience benefits by the great entertainment, but it’s also a chance seeing healing in process. They see people get up and take a risk. Even the pros take more chances, sharing their personal experience with ADHD or trying something they’ve never done before. The audience learns from the experience and it gives them permission to take a risk too. They can commit to start exploring their own talents, whatever that looks like.
The Talent Show is a magical experience. You can see the healing happening right before your eyes for the performer and the audience. It’s a very, very large, rowdy, fun musical support group. You live what the speakers talk about. You KNOW what it is to be healed with ADHD.
People feel wounded by their ADHD. We attend these Conferences and undergo treatment seeking healing and self-acceptance. The Talent Show offers self-acceptance in spades and it’s rare to witness in person.
In all life’s most memorable and important moments having a witness makes it real. Self-growth means the most when others see it. We invite people to witness a wedding so the community bears witness to our commitment. You now have a witness to your own commitment. “I’m willing take a risk. I commit to express myself. To be myself.”
As people take the stage they express their truest self. When they share poetry, tell a story or sing a song, they’re letting the world know, “This is who I am.” With no apology. They know the rest of the world may not get it or like it. “But I like it and I get it, and my tribe likes it and gets it too.”
I remember one woman had a panic attack at a dress rehearsal. She was crying and wanted to back out. I coach the performers with their emotions as well as their music. I calmed her down and when she got on stage, she admitted how nervous she was to the entire crowd. She told the audience she was panic stricken and didn’t know if she’d make it through the song. Then she started and you could feel the audience’s support. They helped pull her through and she did it! When she finished, she started crying and the audience gave her a standing ovation. Most of them were crying too! And that’s happened more than once.
One year, David Giwerc performed Tevya from Fiddler on the Roof. He was nervous. It was a big risk for him, but we practiced and built up his confidence. In the middle of the performance he made a mistake, but we made eye contact and he kept going. He got a standing ovation, and it was wonderful to see that even with all his success, this was a huge moment for him. He was as vulnerable as anybody and he threw himself into it.
Terry Matlen has also been a huge inspiration. She performs every year and she seems a little less petrified each time, but it’s still a big risk for her. And she lets the audience know that. In her own words:
“I have performance anxiety and though I’ve played many instruments and sang my entire life, I never learned how to be comfortable in front of an audience….until I attended the first ADDA conference years ago and somehow found the courage to play a song and sing. The late Kate Kelly, an incredibly supportive and kind woman (and member of our ADHD “tribe”), stood by me during my performance, knowing how scared I was. Like Kate, the entire audience exuded acceptance and understanding and I got through that song! Since then, I’ve played at every Talent Show and have gotten less and less anxious because when you’re at the Conference, you’re home- where everyone understands each other’s fears and foibles and makes you feel safe and supported.”
The Talent Show is as much a therapeutic experience as it is a talent show. When people sign up for the Talent Show, we always ask about their level of anxiety, because it’s normal and we’re here to help with that. If you’re a performer, or if you’ve always wondered if you could be a performer, I hope I’ll see you in Atlanta.