BLOG: “I realised this concert had a hell of a lot of lights”

Posted on 18.05.2018

BLOG: “I realised this concert had a hell of a lot of lights”

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash.

Blogger Wallis Leahy describes the impact of unannounced strobes at a concert on someone with photosensitive epilepsy.

I am drained. I am emotional. I am embarrassed. I am disappointed. I am alone.

These are not the feelings I had anticipated following my first time at a well-known concert hall. My ticket kindly gifted to me by a friend, an exciting invitation to see a multi-talented, platinum-selling band on a Monday night.

Yes, a Monday night at a classical venue. I did not agree to a Saturday night rave or a summer festival. I thought I was safe with my ticket, I allowed myself to be excited. 

Was it the first song by the warm-up act or the second? It's a blur now. Within minutes of the start, I was overcome with disappointment and fear as I realised this concert had a hell of a lot of lights (and fog and fire) I hadn't anticipated. 

The minute you realise the event you're in has sporadic strobe lighting is the minute you feel trapped, the minute you tense up, the minute you stop enjoying yourself trying to predict when the next batch of intensity is coming, and the minute you have to accept you may just have to leave, often to the abandonment of your friends and enjoyable evening.

I accepted the warm-up act were just too 'strobey’ and covered one eye, as I am advised to do, when the flashing lights came on. However, this prevented me from enjoying the music and I was conscious of how I looked, so I stood up with my back to the stage facing the dark wall so I could just listen. Without conscious feeling, I began to cry. Tears fell out of my eyes as my pleasant evening disappeared in front of me. Standing with my back to the stage in tears? Not an invisible disability for me tonight.

Gathering myself together with the support of my friend I cleared my emotional slate with positivity for the main act. The videos we had both watched of the band in advance appeared mellow, without a flashing light in sight, so we were certain the main act wouldn’t be using strobe lighting. But apparently the music in their set wasn’t enough to make a concert enjoyable either, and the light show continued. I really did try to sit there and enjoy myself in-between the lights. I didn't want to let my friend down by leaving, nor appear ungrateful for the free ticket.

But I was stressed and upset and I couldn't shake it. Another burst of strobes and I wished my friend goodnight. By goodnight I mean I apologised deeply for having to leave, she apologised for not having checked, I apologised for not having checked. We apologised to each profusely neither of us having done anything wrong. 

As I started to leave the venue, again the tears fell due to my disappointment but also of relief stepping out into a safe environment. Multiple members of staff could see I was visibly leaving in tears, especially when I explained that I wasn’t coming back in when they tried to scan my ticket, yet no-one chose to question why I might be distressed.

As I walked away I felt exhausted and immediately checked the event web page to see if I had mistakenly overlooked the lighting warnings. The only performance information given detailed some age restrictions. To learn that I am not able to attend a Monday night performance at a classical concert venue without needing to phone ahead and ask about the lighting was a great disappointment.

The above was written immediately after I left the venue. I wanted to capture a true and emotional account of how distressing the presence of strobe lighting can be on an individual with photosensitive epilepsy. I’m automatically excluded from being able to attend many concerts and events due to pre-warning of strobe lighting which I have accepted with disappointment. But when I am already at a concert and have to leave an enjoyable evening and company alone in the dark, I know that is not right and an inexcusable case of discrimination against those living with a disability.  

Venues and festivals – if an event will feature strobes, you should always include a warning on event webpages, promotional materials and your Access Information pages.