A
 
Web www.artsmart.co.za
A R T S M A R T
arts news from kwazulu-natal

miscellaneous news
www.artsmart.co.za
enquiries@artsmart.co.za
 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
 

NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

WHEELCHAIR EXPERIENCES (article first published : 2000-04-26)

artSMart editor Caroline Smart broke her foot at the end of January and spent the next two months either in a wheelchair or on crutches. As she continued to review shows, she discovered how disabled friendly or otherwise are the major theatre venues in Durban:

The past six weeks have been quite an experience and my respect has increased a thousand-fold for those perfectly able people Ė and there are many - confined to wheelchairs and trying to lead an independent lifestyle. Particularly those wanting to enjoy whatís happening in the theatre world. And, once they get into the venue, can they enjoy a carefree evening, knowing that they can gain access to a toilet? Working from home, I could have remained in that environment for the full six weeks but I had reviews to write. So, four wheels and notebook at the ready, I set forth.

The main Playhouse complex is completely wheelchair friendly with a lift to the right of the entrance stairs that carries you to the level of the main foyer. Itís locked at ground level so you just need to phone ahead or alert the security guard at the glass doors. Once in the foyer, there are lifts to all floors and each floor has disabled toilets. The ground floor toilet has no soap dispenser, though, so you have to ask a kindly soul to pass you some from the main basins! For shows, wheelchairs can be placed just inside the theatre. My apologies to the cast of War Cry in the Loft for having to sit within their performing area!

The management of the Playhouse Cellar advised that the best way to get me in to review Life and Times of Gopal was to be carried down the two flights of stairs. Thatís when I learned to put my life in other peopleís hands! You could then stay on the upper level and enjoy the show from a side position but if you need to get to the toilets, you might as well negotiate a further couple of steps onto the main floor and then be hauled up another few steps to the toilet area.

The same access problem exists with the Royal Hotelís Backstage but the floor of the venue is flat so the toilets are easily accessible and wide enough to take the chair. However, on the opening night of Cabaret Sauvignon, the room was so full, it was difficult to reach the ladies so Mark Hawkins of Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company exercised his considerable strength to give me a lift up the stairs to the gents in the bar section!

It was FFFDC that took me to the University of Natalís Pieter Scholtz Open Air Theatre to see their magical Fintastic. You can be driven down the steep adjacent lane to the venue and then wheel the chair to the edge of the steps to watch the performance. There is a ramp down to the toilets but on the night I went, the disabled toilet was locked. Mark Hawkins to the rescue again!

Kwasuka Theatre is difficult to access in a wheelchair. There is a large step taking you into the foyer but thereís no point going there unless you want to go to the coffee bar. Rather let your partner bring your refreshment outside to the pleasant Douglas Livingstone Courtyard if the weatherís good and go through to the theatre via the dressing room. Some small steps are involved here and you can only reach the front row if the set allows a gap.

At Technikon Natalís Courtyard Theatre, there is one large step to negotiate to get into the Courtyard foyer. To view a show, the wheelchair can be placed in the central entrance tunnel right up as close as the front row. The cloakrooms are large and can accommodate a wheelchair.

You can be driven down to the entrance of the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. From there you can move around the main foyer and bar area and there is room for a wheelchair either side of the auditorium next to the back row. A disabled toilet has been on that level for about a year now but this is currently out of operation while they install the plumbing for a new section of adjoining general toilets.

The one supper theatre venue with no problem is the Langoustine Theatre by the Sea. There is a ramp into the restaurant and the entrance to the Ladies is wide enough to take a wheelchair although the cubicles are quite narrow,

Moving to the Wild Coast Sun to review 8-Tease, the complex is completely wheelchair friendly with ramps or lifts leading to various areas. However, I had to reach the Wild Orchid Showbar via the kitchens but this was a temporary route while the casino complex was under renovation. When you book, ask for the bedrooms with the disabled bathrooms. These are a joy and have many strategically placed safety bars and much space for the wheelchair. Only disadvantage was that the bricked-in basin area made it difficult to use without standing up!

With the International Convention Centre hosting the Russian State Kuban Cossack Dance Company, I went along to check it out. An extra R1 million was spent on the ICC to ensure that it is disabled-friendly and it certainly is the height of modernity and sophistication. At least 40 wheelchairs can be accommodated at the back row of the raked seating or they could be placed close to the front row. While the disabled toilet has been well-designed and everything is at an accessible height, I had a problem getting into it because a supermarket trolley carrying spare toiletries filled the space!

In general, it is advisable to phone ahead to alert theatre managements before you reach venues with difficult access and I feel sure others will experience the same concern, help and co-operation as I did. My thanks are due to the enormous number of people who have made my life easier, over these past six weeks, particularly those who had to carry me into the Cellar and the Royal Backstage! May their backs and arms continue to be strong!




 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
a co-production by caroline smart services and .durbanet. site credits
copyright © subsists in this page. all rights reserved. [ edit ] copyright details  artsmart