"Tomorrow night I want you to have fun. This play is a party -- literally. Make it the kind of party that every person in the audience will want to be a part of." I gave this direction before Torrid Affaire opened for the first time, and it's a bit of direction I've employed ever since. I have only recently found a word to sum up what I'm promoting with this advice. The wife and I began studying French with Rosetta Stone (an awesome way to learn a second language, byt the way) which has opened me up to really trying to conceptually understand the language.
As we all know, "joie de vivre" means "joy of life," but much is lost in the translation. "Joie" means more than just "joy." Joie is "sentiment exaltant ressenti par toute la conscience" or "A feeling of exhilaration that expands across the spirit." The word "ressenti" is the past participle of "ressentir," and actually means "to feel pain, experience a shock, sensation." So there is a passionate, visceral aspect to this word, "joie."
That's good for a lexicophile; what does the word mean to me, in the context of "a party on stage"?
It means embodying a fullness of spirit; being fully plugged in to the moment-by-moment; being present and active. It means effervescing -- including and especially in tragic roles! It means chasing down the invisible in a tenacious effort to make it visible.*
Note that joie is a term which concerns and involves the audience. Through the "magical" means of identification, transference and catharsis, if you're doing it right the audience is essentially on stage with you. Joie is the bright light that draws them in, enraptures them, and makes their investment in the piece a painless transaction. Joie is the ongoing sensation of life that keeps the audience engaged.
Perfunctory is the enemy of joie. Smug, self-congratulatory egosim can be a sick mockery of joie. Joie is not "social hour" or being gregarious -- "gregarious" literally means "belonging to a herd." Baaaaaa.
On the contrary, joie requires intense, earnest openness. It is a dangerous thing to experience; to manifest. Yet when a performance has joie, you can feel it resonate in the deepest part of your humanity. Joie is what brings an audience to its feet in a spontaneous display of gratitude at the end.
Joie is what we strive for.
* "I am calling it the Holy Theatre for short, but it could be called The Theatre of the Invisible – Made – Visible: the notion that the stage is a place where the invisible can appear has a deep hold on our thoughts. […] This is what is meant and remembered by those who with feeling and seriousness use big hazy words like nobility, beauty, poetry, which I would like to re-examine for the particular quality they suggest. The theatre is the last forum where idealism is still an open question: many audiences all over the world will answer positively from their own experience that they have seen the face of the invisible through an experience on stage that transcended their experience in life." – Peter Brook, The Empty Space, pg. 42