Interview: Sofie Hagen talks ‘anxiety-friendly gigs’

Access London interviewed comedian Sofie Hagen, who has spoken openly about her issues with anxiety. Over the last tour of her sell-out comedy show ‘Shimmer Shatter’, Sofie aimed to make every venue accessible to those with anxiety or other mental health issues.

What made you decide to make your shows anxiety-friendly? Was there a particular incident?

I don’t remember the moment I made the decision. I just know that whenever my anxiety flares up, going to gigs can be terrifying. Normal life can be terrifying sometimes. I started getting a sense of who was in my audience. The people attending my shows were like me – introverted, anxiety-ridden outsiders. So it made sense to make the shows accessible for people like us. Plus the show, ‘Shimmer Shatter’, is about having anxiety and being introverted, so it makes sense that people with anxiety should be able to attend it.

What was the response you got from venues?

All the venues were very, very understanding. Or, maybe they didn’t understand, but they certainly let me do what I wanted. Some, like the GLive venue in Guildford, were amazing. They sorted a special ‘safe space’ for anxious people. It was just a big room with three chairs in it. It was such a wonderful effort. In Aberdeen, they arranged for some beanbag chairs in a corner for the anxious people.

“Mental health is still a massive taboo, unfortunately. We are scared of asking for assistance because we’re scared they’ll laugh at us”.

Did you get a lot of requests from people with anxiety? Were all of the requests feasible?

I got quite a few but it wasn’t overwhelming. I believe I was able to help everyone. I don’t remember rejecting anyone’s request. Anxious people are quite nice and easy-going. They hate to bother you – so I imagine a lot of people held back.

What has the feedback been from your audience?

The feedback was overwhelmingly wonderful. People are happy that their ‘thing’ is being taken into consideration. I even got some great suggestions from people of things I can do on my next tour. Things I hadn’t even considered – because I spend most of my time on stage and not in an audience. And people felt comfortable enough to approach me after the show even though they were mid-panic attack. Which is a very lovely thing.

Do you feel like it was an easy task to make venues anxiety friendly?

I mean, it would have been easier to not do it, obviously. And I was often nervous that I was going to forget someone or something or that I’d let people down. I didn’t have a system, I just had my email account with people’s emails. But once it was happening, it was simple. You know. A “Reserved” sign on a chair by the exit, walking in a man who needs to go in before the crowd, answering people’s questions. It’s definitely worth it.

How do you feel other venues/gigs could help with access for mentally disabled people in future?

I am not sure – I did my anxiety-safe tour on a case-by-case basis, taking one person’s angst at a time. Some people need an aisle seat, some people need a corner. You never know. Maybe venues could have a website with a contact form. Maybe other artists could do what I did. It’s never completely easy, but it’s worth it. Anxious people are the best and you want us in your venue.

“I didn’t have a system…But once it was happening, it was simple.”

Why do you think venue access for people with mental illnesses is such a rare thing?

We can’t see it, so it’s difficult for people to know how to approach it. With a broken leg, a wheelchair, we can see how stairs are difficult. It makes sense. But if you always feel comfortable at gigs, you can’t possibly imagine how the person next to you feels like they are going to choke because they don’t know exactly when the show ends or if there’s a break or not. And mental health is still a massive taboo, unfortunately. We are scared of asking for assistance because we’re scared they’ll laugh at us. Or call us weird.

You can sign up for Sofie’s newsletter here, which includes all her live performance dates.

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