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  • Writer's pictureIngela Onstad

Are you having any FUN with your art?

I’ll admit (a bit shamefully) that this is a question I only very recently started contemplating. I had forgotten about having fun in my singing!

Thinking back on it, singing was really fun when I was a kid and teen. It felt thrilling to use my voice as a vehicle of self-expression and learning more about vocal technique was an interesting challenge. I found lots of joy in lessons, rehearsals, practicing, and learning new languages and new pieces of music. Everything came with a sense of possibility and openness. I guess you can say that I had the optimism and excitement characteristic of younger people.

I don’t know exactly when things changed, but it likely started in university. Studying music suddenly seemed like a much more serious endeavor. I cried over my music theory homework and sweated through my shirt when it was my turn to perform in studio class. I strove to stay on top of all of my school work and the immense amounts of music I had to learn.

Striving for perfection became the name of the game. It wasn’t a conscious decision, more a factor of a conservatory environment. And to be fair, we weren’t necessarily encouraged to have fun, we were encouraged to reach towards excellence at all times. I have a somewhat serious temperament: I’m pretty friendly and easygoing on the surface, but those who know me well know that I am majorly driven and serious about the things I care about, so this “striving towards excellence” thing definitely suited my personality.

Sidenote: I can totally see why this is necessary and certainly don’t fault the environments I found myself in. In order to succeed in the arts, you must produce a certain standard in order to even hope to have a professional career.

And then came many years of auditioning and working and auditioning and working, but I won’t bore you with those. I suppose I had occasional moments of fun, but fun certainly wasn’t a priority, and I probably didn’t always even notice when it was happening. I definitely never set fun as an intention. Things felt stressful and very serious. I took myself VERY seriously.

I have to laugh a little when I think back to those times. I wish I could go back and tell myself to lighten up a little.

So, fast forward to the beginning of the pandemic when all my gigs dried up. I’ve written about this before, but like most of us, I began questioning my deeper WHY. It’s been many years since I was making a full-time living in a theater, so it is actually not necessary (either financially or otherwise) for me to perform at all.

So why was I doing it? What was the point of all the extra practicing after a long workday, weekends spent in rehearsal and performances, worrying about every cold and virus going around, not to mention the strain on my nervous system?

Honestly, at some point it probably just became force of habit. Singing is what I do, so I keep doing it. And there are likely also deep identity issues around it: I’m a singer. I sing. Period.

But I realized that in my quest for excellence, I had completely forgotten about making fun a priority. It actually kind of shocked me – having fun had fallen so far down the priorities list in my singing life, it barely registered.

I knew immediately that things needed to change. I wanted to make fun more of a priority, if not the TOP priority. MORE FUN, dangit!

But what does it take to have more fun? I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll share some of my strategies with you. These are all still very much a work in progress.

- I give myself more time before I automatically say yes to a gig, asking myself these questions:

Do I like these people/this organization/this music?

What is the time investment for this and does it feel worth it, meaning: is there something else in my life I’ll be missing out on in order to participate in this?

Am I saying yes because I truly want to, or is there a FOMO element to this? (Read: am I saying yes to this out of fear that saying no will somehow harm my career?)

- I work to bring a sense of fun into the practice room by setting some intentions for my practice session. For example, “today I intend to vocalize with a sense of freedom and exploration.” Or, “today I intend to delve more deeply into the intricacies of this music without the need for it to be perfectly accurate.”

- I think a lot about the energy I want to bring to rehearsals and performances. I choose to release “striving for perfection/excellence” and focus on what I’m trying to convey to the audience.

- I remind myself that the whole point of this is to communicate something meaningful to the audience, NOT to be perfect. Can I make sure the audience is having fun along with me?

- I actively relish in the joy and energy I feel when I allow myself to focus on the collaboration and the energy of creating art in a space with other humans.

- I allow myself to tap into the pleasurable sensations in my body created by singing.

- I encourage myself to really enjoy the parts that flow in a piece, and to release the need to make the more difficult parts perfect. They’re not going to be perfect, why beat myself up?

-On the day of the gig, I remind myself that I’m here to have fun and create joy for others as well as myself.

So, how’s it going?

I can safely say that I am having a lot more fun.

I worry less about upcoming gigs. I practice with more ease and less fear.

I did something out of the ordinary for myself: I joined an ABBA cover band, which has been SUCH a fun way to spend the last few months.

I’m having a lot more fun in rehearsals by just allowing myself to enjoy rather than constantly self-criticize.

I feel overall more relaxed about singing. It’s a work in progress, for sure, but I decided to take control of my attitude and mindset and it’s really paying off. Which is great news for you as well: with a few small tweaks and changes in habit we can all bring more fun and joy into our art!

I’d love to hear about your journey with fun if you’re willing to share. Or perhaps you have some tips to share with me on how you keep the fun in performing?

More fun, people, more fun. Life is too short for art to be so darn serious all the time.

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