According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Those with social anxiety disorder experience an intense fear of being scrutinized and negatively evaluated by others in social or performance situations. Some literally feel sick from fear in seemingly nonthreatening situations.” Simply defined, social anxiety is the fear of interacting with other people. But social anxiety can be selective.
Anxiety! The Musical, presented by Fearless Comedy Productions at the Historic Mounds Theatre, is not a show that makes light of the mental illness, but it does use comedic elements to talk about it. I recently met up with the show’s producer, Becci Schmidt, to talk about how she came up with the idea for Anxiety! and answer my biggest question: “What was it like to juggle anxiety and produce a show for the first time?” As someone who struggles with social anxiety myself, I was intrigued to know how she did it.
Schmidt explained that she came up with the idea during the 2016 Fringe Festival. Not being a writer, she enlisted a team that included Bob Alberti, Jason Kruger, Cara White, and John Youker to help bring her idea to life. She knew she wanted the concept to include the daily struggle of a person with anxiety dealing with the nagging voices of self-doubt, but it needed to have catchy musical numbers.
Producing a show is no small feat, especially for someone with anxiety. It includes writing; communicating with the director, musical director, and technical director; casting; overseeing the musical process; and marketing and promotions. Schmidt also filled in acting parts when actors weren’t available. But after months of mini anxiety attacks, little to no decent sleep, and a roller coaster of emotions, Anxiety! the Musical was ready for the stage, debuting May 12.
When asked how being a first-time producer helped or added to her anxiety, Schmidt responded, “Stressful, anxiety attacks, no sleep. Grateful for the terminology to show people what’s it like.” I then questioned her on what she learned during the process that she wasn’t expecting. The answer? “That I can let go. I’m a serious control freak. There was depression, sadness, anger, hurt. I had to trust others to be able to tell the story.”
I was in the audience on opening night, and Anxiety! the Musical has been the most rewarding and emotional show for me to attend this year. Director Susanne Becker greets the audience with a disclaimer that show has sensitive material, and anyone affected by such is welcome to depart the audience if needed. I’ve been to shows with a similar disclaimer and usually don’t think twice about it. This show, however, hit with so much emotion right out of the gate that I considered taking Becker up on her the offer to excuse myself. But I didn’t. I desperately wanted to see what direction they would go and to personally allow myself to face my own emotions.
The show starts with the main character, Sandy (played by Sarah Lanners), and her nagging sidekick, Anxiety (Boo Segersin). Sandy wakes up, gets dressed, and heads to work like most people. But during her short trip to the office, Anxiety has stressed her out so much that her coworkers instantly notice she could use some cheering up. This is the daily life of someone with anxiety: What am I forgetting? Why is that person looking at me? Are they judging me? Am I taking too long to order my coffee? Everything I do is wrong in some way. No one will notice if I’m not around.
This sets the chaotic tone for the whole performance. By the end of the first musical number, tears were flowing down my face, and they continued throughout the show. I absolutely could relate to everything I saw on stage. And just when Sandy’s emotions would get especially deep, a little comedy, perfectly placed, would lighten things up. The first act acquaints the audience with the emotional struggle of living with anxiety; the second addresses the need for a good support system of friends, family, and mental-health professionals. And throughout, entertaining musical performances. I would gladly purchase the soundtrack to this show.
Although the main thrust of this show is how Sandy deals with Anxiety, Anxiety does not discriminate and attacks each character throughout the performance. I appreciate that the showrunners were able to expose how everyone deals with anxiety on their own level. It’s easier for some people. Others could use a little help.
I could not find anything I did not love about this show. The actors kept my attention the entire show; I was so entranced in the performance that I didn’t even notice lighting or sound cues (my apologies to the tech crew, Jared Baker and Jason Erdstrom). Casting was perfect. Segersin plays Anxiety exactly how I would picture my own anxiety if it were anthropomorphized. She is the perfect bully: she’s cute, funny, and full of energy, and you don’t realize what a bitch she is until her attacks become too much. The rest of the cast really made me feel like I could be Sandy with her best friend and coworker, Chris (played by Joshua Nite); the boss who thinks he’s hip (Jason Kruger); and the over-the-top bubbly colleague who hides her true self, Erin (Amy Burge).
I truly enjoyed this show—as did my 13-year-old son who also deals with anxiety. I knew I would be able to relate to it, but I had no idea to what extent. As far as I’m concerned, everyone should see Anxiety! The Musical, which has performances May 18, 19, 20 and on June 2 and 3. I want to personally thank Becci Schmidt, the entire production team, and Fearless Comedy for putting together an entertaining, emotional show that not only addresses mental health but also visibly shows what anxiety looks like.
I asked Schmidt if she had anything to say specifically to Twin Cities Geek readers and she left me with two quotes:
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
“Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” —George Bernard Shaw
If you battle with anxiety, you will relate to this show. If you know someone who battles anxiety, you will relate in a different way. If, by some chance, you are not affected by anxiety in any way, you will definitely learn something. For more information, visit Anxiety and Depression Association of America or the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Minnesota.
And for performance details and to buy tickets, visit Fearless Comedy Productions.