Emotions and Performance Groups

Posted on 16 September 2014

An artist’s stock in trade is emotions. We provide relatively safe places where people can explore their emotions, what they mean, and what things can be done with them.

As living beings emotions are important tools for our survival. Fight or flight keeps us from losing our lives to predators. Bonding and intimacy help us to thrive as a species. We are social animals. Despite a mythos that glorifies people who are like lone tigers, we are much more like elephants (betcha haven’t heard that analogy before): intelligent creatures who rely on one another for survival and have to be there for their young for an extended period of time.

When you are performing with a group, it’s important to find ways to negotiate with your emotions on stage versus off stage. It’s vital that you find ways to ensure everyone feels they are in a safe space: a space where they can allow themselves to be vulnerable and to experiment, in order to create the best performance possible. This requires openness, kindness, and respect.

Comedy tends to put people in high spirits so the play can get a bit rough. Play is an important part of the process. You want to allow for as much of it as possible. You also have to be able to read people’s emotions and be ready to ask that all important question “are you okay with that”? That requires slowing things down a bit and giving your brain half a chance to keep up with circumstances.

People come into a performance group with their own individual emotional journeys. Everyone will only ever be showing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their lives. You won’t entirely know what their history is, nor their current experiences, nor even their inner world.

People who have experienced certain sorts of trauma may actually show less emotion around certain things, because it’s one way to protect themselves. So you need to create a space where they feel safe to say when something is bothering them, but also remember to ask “are you okay”.

People who have experienced trauma may also have some trigger points. When they ask others to be careful about certain things, it’s not necessarily a judgement nor a call for censorship. It’s very much like saying, I have an allergy to peanuts. Hopefully, people will take that in a spirit of friendship and go, “okay, I’ll make sure not to have peanuts in the dishes I serve you, or at least warn you when they are present.”

When you are in a perfomance group you are going to end up feeling all kinds of things about each other, and that’s to be expected. You also have to be ready to speak with one another respectfully and professionally. If that doesn’t work, then you need to talk to your director or who ever else is responsible, so that they can speak respectfully on your behalf. You will need to learn techniques to switch on and off performance emotions. And those things that remains problematic, find places where you can safely vent. More than anything, put friendship first. It really is your highest value and safest place.

Peace and kindness,


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