Venue Accessibility for the Anxious

Date published

Hello! He’s a short bit of writing on what venue accessibility means to me, and some small changes venues can make to improve the experience of their anxious audience members.

When I book to see a show in a new venue I’m often faced with a fear of the unknown. It can be a stressful experience! If I’m able I often do a ‘dry run’ of a venue in the day, where I become familiar with the space before it gets all dark and noisy. If I can’t do this the next best option is checking the website: having a page on your website with information like the style of toilets (gendered or non-gendered cubicles), the seating arrangement (pictures are great!) and a general step-by-step guide of what happens before a show can prevent a lot of anxiety.

A few larger venues have started doing lights-up, daytime walks through their building and theatres before certain shows, which is exactly what I need! However, they only seem to do this before certain shows with relaxed performances, and there’s an implicit assumption that audiences for other shows are grown-up enough to not need this, which is totally wrong. If there was an understanding from theatres that one could email and ask for a 10 minute tour of the venue, and that that was a totally normal and acceptable thing to do, I think all my problems would be solved lol.

(Of course, the reason many venues don’t do this is because of terrorism but… please consider the trade-off between preventing terrorism in your small arts centre and vastly improving the experience of your anxious audience members.)

Personally, I find local PWYW gigs and the Free Fringe generally have the most stressful and inaccessible venues. The ones with some sort of front-of-house or managed queueing system are fine, but when it’s in a pub and the room isn’t clearly signposted and… there’s not a visible queue or group of people milling about outside it feels reaaaaally scary. If covid can give us one lasting benefit, I’d like it to be venue websites/twitters clearly explaining the entry procedure before each of their shows.

(Ironically for all my anxiety and worrying, I find it completely normal and fine to be front row in a single digit audience. At least then I know exactly what I’ve got to do!)

When I ask venues to have a guide, I mean something like this:

→Wait in the foyer until we open the house, approx. 15 minutes before the listed show start time. People with balcony seats will be directed to queue outside the venue, which will be announced over the PA.
→Once the show has started, doors will remain open and you can leave and reenter the show freely.
→When the show is over, we will let you out row-by-row, starting from the top.

That’s it! Physical accessibility is obviously far more important and hopefully marginally better catered for, so I just wanted to bring a bit of attention to the main barrier I face going to gigs as a solo anxious person. There’s obviously no law saying venues have to make themselves accessible in this way, but it’s just a nice thing to do!