Park Square Theater in St. Paul is making changes to improve accessibility and enhance the theater-going experience. This fall Park Square Artistic Director Richard Cook unveiled a newly remodeled proscenium auditorium at Park Square’s home in the Historic Hamm Building. All of its 30-year old seats and finishes have been replaced.
A new energy–efficient theatrical lighting system has been installed, creating unprecedented technical capacity and saving the energy equivalent of 60 3-bedroom houses. The proscenium arch was raised and acoustics were improved. New wheelchair access was created in the back of the auditorium, increasing seating and making the light and sound control booths wheelchair accessible. In all, the project upgrades totaling $535,000 was completed on budget and on time.
“The improvements we’ve been able to make for patrons with disabilities are among the most satisfying of the whole remodeling project,” said Michael-jon Pease, Park Square’s Director of External Relations. “With this new capacity, we can accommodate as many as 12,000 more wheelchair users over the next decade. We’re just discovering how to communicate all the potential uses of our new VIP viewing room, but audiences are responding enthusiastically.” The private sound-proof booth, which features a spectacular view of the stage and intimate 350-seat auditorium from a large picture window, is available for patrons with special needs.
Just two weeks ago, a school chaperone with two autistic teenagers chose to watch the show from the viewing room. Her reaction to the house manager was enthusiastic at intermission: “Not only are my kids getting what they need from the show, this is the first field trip where, as a mom, I’ve been able to relax and enjoy the show, too.”
The booth is also used for ALS interpreters to rehearse in during preview performances, and it is the new home for Audio Describers like Rick Jacobson. “Wow! I really appreciate the efforts to make my job as an audio describer easier and more pleasurable,” Jacobson said. “The new quiet room makes for an excellent booth from which to describe. It’s comfortable, spacious, and a huge improvement. Overall, the beautiful remodeling of the entire theater is fabulous.”
To build on the new physical improvements, Park Square is expanding its service to patrons with disabilities over the coming year. With an Arts Access grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the theatre will add more ASL/AD interpreted performances to the performance calendar; explore captioning services; better promote its state-of-the-art assisted listening system; and offer performance enhancements like pre-show sensory tours, introductory sessions with the directors and designers and interpreted post-show discussions. Rachel Parker and Susan Masters are being hired as community liaisons to shape a new grassroots outreach plan with the goal of increasing attendance by patrons with disabilities.
“These are changes we’ve wanted to make for some time, and the State Arts Board funding is a great start to help us implement our plans,” says Eric Herr, Audience Services Director. “We really stand behind our tag line of theatre for you (yes you).†Being as welcoming as possible to all patrons is vital to making that statement true.”
Park Square is at the exact midpoint of a $4.2 million Next Stage Campaign to expand operations and define a new place in the Twin Cities nonprofit theatre market with the addition of new, truly intimate thrust stage. With two stages, the theater will double our artistic output and hire 60% more local artists. This change will give all audiences, particularly those looking for a personalized and welcoming experience, a greater choice of shows to fit their tastes.
All Park Square performances are in the company’s 350-seat theater in St. Paul’s historic Hamm Building, 20 W. Seventh Place.
The community investments for the project included a City of St. Paul Cultural STAR award of $210,000 and $15,000 in new Legacy funds from VSA Minnesota.
For more information on Park Square, call 651-291-7005 or go to www.parksquaretheatre.org