In July 2019, I attended four Utah Shakespeare Festival performances in three different theaters, all via motorized powerchair. Uber-talented actors, gorgeous costumes, and state-of-the-art set design made it clear that “the play’s the thing” at this Cedar City based event. Each production was simply jaw dropping fantastic, most notably Twelfth Night. The ADA accessibility and hospitality, however, proved an uneven performance. My first hand observations and suggestions for accessibility improvement follow.
From a mobility perspective, the festival grounds are ideal:
– Mostly flat, smooth and open walkways connect the three theaters in the space of a short city block.
– Easy curbside drop off points are available for all theaters.
– Outdoor access to the ticket office and into the gift shop is easy to navigate.
– The clearly marked restrooms nearest the gift shop have a good sized, family restroom that is ADA accessible.
– And impeccable garden landscaping, complete with paved paths and Shakespearean statuary, line the venue.
At first glance, all’s well for ADA accessibility to this award winning festival. (Festival accessibility statement.)
Enter a person on a powerchair into the theaters
With the exception of Sara and Denise, the ushering staff seemed unaware of the special needs of a patron required to maneuver a powerchair into the theaters. Several greeted my husband and caregiver but not me, and spoke to them about me rather than to me directly. So annoying.
Suggestion: Train ushers to greet all guests and not to assume mobility or speech impairment signifies less mental capacity. A welcoming smile will do.
My first entry into the newly constructed Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre had me in tears of frustration. The theater portal was understandably noisy making it vocally difficult to explain to the usher that my powerchair needed more room to move into place safely and easily. After some labored discussion, she eventually controlled the flow of patrons (most of whom were oblivious of my mobility challenges,) moved folding chairs, and opened the sliding back wall to improve turning radii into place.
Suggestions: It would be helpful for the box office to relay the likelihood of these necessary entry and egress modifications before performances. The readiness is all.
Also consider having ushers experience what it’s like entering and exiting the theaters, gift shop, and restrooms on a borrowed powerchair. I guarantee it’ll be an eye opener and positive game changer for enhancing guest services.
ADA access signage into the Randall L. Jones Theatre through a popular side door was visible from a good distance, but passing through the somewhat narrow set of doors required assistance to open and maintain the safety of all patrons.
Suggestion: Have an usher stationed at this – and all – critical ADA accessibility theatre entry doors.
Before seeing Hamlet in the Randall Theatre, trying to access the women’s bathroom was a real tragedy. My caregiver had to help me navigate the heavily trafficked room and its tight turns to get to the ADA stall. Then, the stall was so small that we couldn’t close the door.
Suggestion: Invest in installing a family friendly ADA equipped bathroom in the Randall Theatre.
ADA accessible festival parking is at a premium. Only five ADA parking spaces are available on Shakespeare Lane behind the Randall Theatre and Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre.
Suggestion: Work with the necessary agencies to double the number of ADA accessible parking spots.
For performances in the Randall and Engelstad theaters, we had no other option but to sit in the back row of the orchestra level. My husband and caregiver were seated in folding chairs next to my powerchair for which they were offered a slightly reduced ticket price.
Suggestion: As other theaters such as Angus Bowmer Theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival have done (read,) increase accessibility to ADA seating and ticketing options.
While booking tickets to see Twelfth Night again and relaying a couple of the above suggestions, a very pleasant ticket agent assured us that the Utah Shakespeare Festival is working to improve accessibility. I sincerely hope that my observations and respectfully submitted suggestions further this effort, an effort for which “I can no other answer make but thanks, And thanks; and ever thanks… ” (Twelfth Night, III.3).
Making Accessibility Happen
Accessible travel for people with disabilities is becoming big business. Speak with your dollars, your vote, and your voice to let commerce know what’s working, and what’s not.
The above post was emailed to the Utah Shakespeare Festival and a cross section of the staff, including:
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