For patrons in wheelchairs, going to the bathroom during a performance at the Magik Theatre is an arduous process.
The way the interior is structured, people enter the theater by walking through the box office and up the stairs, said Rebekah Williams, education coordinator and actress at the Magik Theatre.
But for those in wheelchairs, that’s not an option. They instead have use a ramp that leads to the side of the stage. Getting to the restroom is even trickier.
“If they’re in the orchestra section in the back, they’d have to go down the side, out that door on the left side of the stage, go down the wheelchair ramp, go into the second lobby, go down a ramp into first lobby, and then go to the restroom,” she said.
To make its facilities more accessible, the Magik Theatre is starting a series of renovations later this week. The venue was originally built in 1893 and hasn’t been updated since 1977, General Manager Shelley Weber said.
“Our building was built for grownups, and we serve thousands of children a week,” Weber said. “We saw that serving families and children [requires different accommodations] than serving grown men [does]. We got strollers, moms with multiple children, schools coming in with kids. Along with our patrons that have disability challenges, our building wasn’t created for the number of children we have coming in and out every day.”
The restrooms will be the first area of the theater to undergo renovations as the building’s limited restroom space and stairs make it difficult for families and people with disabilities to navigate the theater, Weber said.
“It’s not as friendly and welcoming as we’d like it to be,” she added.
The first phase of renovations will add new sinks and countertops and potentially one extra toilet per restroom. The nursing station in the women’s restroom will be moved to be near electrical outlets so mothers can nurse or use a breast pump during a show.
Following the bathroom upgrades, which are slated for completion by Oct. 1, renovations will shift to the performance space, Weber said. The stage, which sustained water damage from a leaky roof that has since been repaired, will get new flooring and improved wheelchair access via a wheelchair lift.
The stage upgrades are funded by the Nancy Smith Hurd foundation, Weber said, and the theater hopes to cover the costs for the wheelchair lift through outstanding funding requests.
Beyond accommodating people with physical challenges, the theater started sensory-friendly shows for children on the autism spectrum and with other sensory sensitivities in 2015. Its dedication to accessibility extends to acting classes as well, Williams said.
“Instead of being product-focused, where the students put on the best show possible, [classes are] process-focused, so every student makes progress,” she said. “By the end, not only have they made it on stage, they have made an improvement in their confidence and their abilities to speak in front of others and relate to others.”
The theater is also upgrading its technology, Weber said. Theater executives purchased a new dimmer rack with funding from the Hurd Foundation, and sound equipment was funded by the Pryor Trust.
“Those technological improvements are also assisting people who are differently abled, because we’re able to offer clearer sound or a place to plug into our soundbar for their hearing aids,” she said.
The stage improvements should be completed by next summer, Weber said, adding that the timeline for future improvements – such as better seating for audience members in wheelchairs – is still uncertain.
“We have pending [funding] requests to 11 different groups and committed funding from four – Impact San Antonio, the Nancy Smith Hurd Foundation, the Pryor Trust, and the Greehey Family Foundation,” she said. “We’re really excited about this project, but it’s going to be a long time until we get to our final product. But hopefully San Antonio will help us through this.”
The Magik Theatre’s upcoming 25th season consists of six shows. Williams said she’s most excited for the first, Schoolhouse Rock Live! All the popular songs will be on the 14-song show list, including Conjunction Junction and I’m Just A Bill, she said.
“I grew up on that one, so when I was cast in that, [my parents] were extremely hyped to come and see it,” she said.