What role does joy play in a good performance?

A lot of performers are lucky enough to have been able to spend their lives doing something they love, something they feel passionate about. But in the push and pull of daily life, the struggle for success, staying connected to the joy can be difficult.

This is something I feel passionately about. How, as performers, we stay connected to our joy and what this gives our audiences, and why we might sometimes struggle to do this.

I had with someone who really is passionate about singing, and sing for the sheer joy; but those feelings completely change when they do what they do as a job. Suddenly they felt they needed to do more simply because they were being paid, and that they needed to be more serious about it too – completely losing the joy.

Joy can be frowned upon, almost as if you are not properly working if you are having too much fun. Joy can also feel frightening and out of control, bizarrely, if we clock that we are feeling that wonderful, childlike emotion of joy, it can make us feel vulnerable. There is the concept of ‘foreboding joy‘ coined by Brené Brown; the idea that you must be wary of enjoying the moment too much otherwise you won’t be prepared for when it all goes wrong. Her antidote to this is to practise gratitude in these moments, so instead of worrying about what might go wrong, you stay grateful for what is bringing you joy.

Recently I have become really interested in the roles of the different sides of the brain, and how our use of them affects our views on and interactions with the world. According to the Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, in left brain/right brain terms, large, overwhelming emotions, such as joy, are very much the domain of the right hemisphere. They can feel scary and mean that we try to avoid them, shut them down, or logic them away so that we can feel in control again. Combined with the idea that joy can feel childish and frivolous, and we need to be serious and grow up if we are doing a job, we have plenty of reason to avoid joy; but by avoiding the joy we are sacrificing it too, and being left with the emptiness of the left hemisphere mode of processing (see my article on Trying to be Perfect).

We can fear that embracing the right brain aspect can leave us vulnerable and looking unprofessional, and that we might not work as hard if we are having fun. I would argue the opposite, if we love what we do and are grateful that we get the chance to do it, I believe we work all the harder and enjoy ourselves whilst we do it and that joy will be transferred to our audiences.

Give yourself permission to love what you do, embrace the moments of joy in life and use them as trampolines to keep you lifted.


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