Local theater uses grant to install accessible restrooms for patrons

A sign indicating restrooms including an accessible option.

“There is almost always someone attending our performances with a wheelchair, walker, oxygen and/or support personnel.”

The Arctic Playhouse’s mission is to provide affordable access to the performing arts, fostering the growth of developing artists while bringing arts and culture to a wider local audience – including individuals with disabilities, said Volunteer Coordinator Deb Belanger.

But in their original, small location in West Warwick’s Arctic village, it was nearly impossible to create completely accessible restrooms for patrons. When they moved to a larger space in the former Maxine’s department store on Main Street, they accomplished this goal with help from a 2018 Paul V. Sherlock Center Access for All Abilities Mini Grant.

“We receive compliments about our four new restrooms – especially from patrons who came to our last location,” said Belanger. “There is almost always someone attending our performances with a wheelchair, walker, oxygen and/or support personnel. The accessible restrooms have room for two people for those who need an additional support person for help.”

She and her husband, Jim, who is executive director, plan to make the space even more accessible. “There is still more to be done, including creating a permanent wheelchair ramp and, down the line, accommodations for the deaf and hard of hearing,” she said.

The Arctic Playhouse’s commitment to inclusion includes casting. Trinity Repertory Co. auditioned neurodivergent actors to portray certain roles in its 2023 production of “A Christmas Carol,” including Tiny Tim.

“Although we have not done anything yet like what Trinity has done this year, we have had actors who have self-identified as being on the autism spectrum. As parents of a son with autism, Jim and I have always been mindful of including everyone who auditions. We use this statement in all auditions: ‘The Arctic Playhouse stands firm on the fact that strong actors with strong direction can play a role, no matter what their type, look or ethnicity.’”

In addition to its live theater and musical performances, The Arctic Playhouse provides space for film screenings, magician acts and community art nights. It also hosted the celebration for the Sherlock Center’s 2023 Access for All Abilities Mini Grant award recipients.

Belanger said she has collaborated with Sherlock Center staff members through her work at RIPIN over the years, especially around the topic of self-directed support for students with developmental disabilities. “We were happy to support this ceremony for an organization that has helped us move forward with our efforts to create affordable access to the performing arts.”

She said funding like the Sherlock Center’s mini grants give organizations an incentive to prioritize accessibility. “And the financial support really can help make all the difference in jump-starting those ideas. This initiative and the funding we received made all the difference and we're very appreciative,” she said. “As a nonprofit organization run completely by volunteers, we’re always looking for funding to keep us going.”

Related News & Stories