From time to time, our theater guru, Julie Peterson, dishes helpful advice before you head out the door with your own or your companion's disability. If you have more tips, especially about local theater-going with non-mobility impairments, please comment or drop her a note.
Any time you're planning to see a show at Mesa Arts Center (or just about any other venue), you can call the box office about any special needs you or your companions have -- accommodations for mobility impairments, wheelchair or service animal seating, audio description for people with visual impairments, American Sign Language interpretation or text captioning -- and they will usually have all the information you need.
If they don't, they'll ask someone like MAC's Front of House coordinator, Lee Brown, who works tirelessly to keep services up to date. Brown gave us a comprehensive tour of onstage, backstage, and seating areas during our interview.
One of the things you really start to notice, living with a movement disability, is which houses have ramps. They make getting around so convenient, whether you're using a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair. Mesa Arts Center is so new that ramps abound, along with elevators that reach every level.
If you use a wheelchair, you need a spot in the theater that doesn't have another seat bolted down to it. In the old days, this often meant sitting in either the very back or the very front, but now there are wheelchair seating areas in multiple parts of most newer theaters. Mesa Arts Center also features transitional seats that pivot out so that someone can transfer from a wheelchair to a theater seat.
Parking can be another can of worms, but again, if you call first, you'll get an easy explanation. Because MAC has four theaters that are sometimes all in use on a single evening with staggered curtain times, the ground-level disabled parking spaces can fill up quickly. Brown's team (ushers and house managers, with assistance from security) provides what they call "curb-to-lobby" service -- if you're parked on the street or up in the garage and it's too far away for you, they'll come out and help you get in, whether it's with a cart or a wheelchair -- just call. And when the show's over, you'll be met by your new friend to do the same thing in reverse.
There's also support for people who can't see or hear a performance. Those who are hard of hearing can pick up assisted listening devices at the Patron Services office in the lobby for every show, while ASL interpreters and audio describers (of action, sets, costumes, etc.) work live at designated performances (find out which ones from the website or box office) or, if those dates aren't available or convenient, at any other time with two weeks' notice, as long as a qualified person is available. Staff are also working on ASL skills just to help patrons find their way around the space before and after the show.
Front-of-house and patron services are necessary jobs that require a lot of evenings and weekends, great people skills, and a high tolerance for surprises. "If you're in this kind of business," Brown explains, "you're in it basically for the love of it."
Next Crip Tips: "Where the Doors Are" -- a.k.a. how to get in to some of the Valley's more obscure performance spaces.
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