BWW Blog: Anxious in the Audience

Read on to get some tips about how to deal with anxiety while being an audience member at a show!

Anxiety is something that many people deal with in the world. Whether you have an anxiety disorder or not, going to a Broadway show can cause some people to get nervous. Crowds of people, loud noises, and unexpected moments can be sources of worry. But fortunately, there are people like me who have gone to shows while dealing with anxiety and have returned safely with some advice for anyone in need of help. Read on to get some tips about how to deal with anxiety while being an audience member at a show!

Disclaimer – I am not a professional doctor, so this article is not official medical advice.

Know About Potential Triggers

While there are many happy shows on Broadway, there are quite a few that deal with dark themes or have a few dark jokes that might be unexpected. When deciding what show to see, I would recommend looking up the plot and seeing if there are any topics that might trigger you in any way. Websites like Stage & Candor have trigger warnings for different shows that don’t give away too many spoilers, which is nice if you want some things to remain a surprise. Some common triggers in Broadway shows including death, loud noises (like gunshots), depictions of violence, and different types of abuse. Be careful and know what you are able to handle before purchasing your ticket.

Choose A Seat That You’re Comfortable With

One of the perks of purchasing tickets online is that you can choose a seat and research it ahead of time. Websites like A View From My Seat allow you to see what your view will be like from your exact seat, as well as general areas like the Mezzanine or the Center Orchestra. As someone who likes to be able to get out of a place as quickly as possible if needed, I prefer to choose a seat that is on an aisle, preferably close to an exit door (which also works out for being one of the first people at stagedoor after bows). Being on the aisle or near an exit can also help if you are worried about distracting other audience members if you need to leave your seat for any reason. If you’re with friends, I might recommend sitting in the middle of your groups so you can distract yourself by talking with people you know and surrounding yourself with familiarity.

Pack in Preparation

Before going to the theater, make sure that you have everything you need! Being prepared is one way that I feel a bit more comfortable going into a situation that might cause a panic attack. The night before I head up to Broadway, I tend to make a list and pack whatever I can think of that will be useful for the next day. Everyone has their own things to help before, during, and after a bout of anxiety. These might include a fidget toy to distract you from a panic attack (one that doesn’t make too much noise so as not to distract fellow audience members), any prescribed medicine to help with your anxiety, a portable phone charger to keep your phone alive, and earbuds to listen to something soothing before and after the performance. And of course, don’t forget your ticket!

Speak With a Nearby Usher

When I saw a performance of Head Over Heels back in January of 2019, before the show started, I felt myself on the edge of a major panic attack. I got out of my seat and went up to the back so as not to disturb other audience members. When an usher walked nearby, I told him what was going on and asked if there was any seat in the back row that I could sit in while riding out the panic attack in quiet. The man was incredibly kind and found me a seat right near one of the exit doors so I could leave if I needed to and also said to talk to him if I needed anything else. While you may not be able to switch seats in a sold-out show like Hamilton, an usher may be able to help you find a solution that you might not have thought of. Remember – You are not a burden. The ushers are there to help you if you are in need, and sometimes even fellow audience members can be a source of calm.

Have a Stand-By Buddy

Something that has helped me a lot in the past is having a friend that I can talk to in case of an emergency. I’ll contact this friend before the show and let them know where I am and how long I’ll be there, as well as how I’m doing so they know whether they should be expecting me to contact them. While I don’t use my phone during the performance, I do keep it on silent as it makes me feel a little safer in the theater (sorry Patti, but at least I’m not filming during your performance). During intermission I tend to send an update text to my “stand-by buddy” to let them know how I’m doing and to ask for any help if necessary. Sometimes I like to thank my friend for being there for me by buying a small souvenir from the show like a magnet or a keychain.

Ultimately, while going to see a show while dealing with anxiety is difficult, it is possible to find some ways to make it a bit easier for yourself. Hopefully these tips can help you have a better experience in the theater. Remember that you are incredibly valid and not a burden – You are not your anxiety!

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Student Blogger: Kat Mokrynski