As architectural drawings become increasingly detailed for our new theater in the Gordon Square Arts District, we’re glad to say that we’ve set aside space for a built-in accessibility ramp from the floor of the main auditorium to the proscenium stage. From the audience’s perspective, it will be at the front right-hand side of the auditorium (stage left). In order to fit and not be too steep, it will consist of two parallel sections with a turn-around landing between them.
We don’t know exactly how unusual such a permanent ramp to the stage is. The disability community in the United States has often lamented how inaccessible theater seating and stages tend to be. “You almost never see a new building that has a stage in it that is accessible,” playwright and activist Michael Ervin told the Theater Communication Group in 2006. “The theater space, the spaces for seating and such, may be the minimum of what the law requires, but the stage itself will not be, which really says to me that we’ve been accepted as spectators so far, but not as anybody that’s going to be part of the show.”
Of course, a ramp alone does not equal inclusion. Or, as Chekhov might say, don’t put the ramp there unless you plan to use it. Artistically, then, we’d better start planning to rise to the opportunity to include actors of an even wider diversity than we can now. But at least the stage will be set. So will the house. Thanks to a gift from donors Mort and Iris November, who specifically had accessibility in mind, an elevator will serve our basement, lobby and balcony. It’s our great hope that people who have mobility challenges will finally have access to our work, whether as actors or audience members.
In other construction updates: We’ve now penciled in a tentative date of June 5 for the start of excavation, the first real work at the site. It’s tentative because it depends on other factors: a decision by our Trustees in late February or early March on what degree of super-energy-efficient Passivhaus design we can afford; the relocation of electrical transformers, still under study by Cleveland Public Power and the City of Cleveland; and the completion of contractor bids by our construction manager. Meetings of our design-and-construction team are now being held weekly to keep things on schedule. — Hans Holznagel