The stately Greek Revival building that houses Sonoma Arts Live is a National Historic Landmark built in 1915 yet is wheelchair accessible after a recent renovation. What is Sonoma Arts Live? It’s a new consortium of local theater companies and it’s taking Sonoma’s arts and culture scene to a new level. We saw “Noises Off”, the second production of the 2015 season, with 4 more productions coming through October.
Historic buildings are so often not accessible, so it was thrilling to see what a beautiful transformation was accomplished here to keep the integrity of the original architectural details while making it accessible to all.
The people running Sonoma Arts Live are as impressive as the accessible, historic building. Jaime Love, the Executive Director, contacted me to request that Chip and I attend a show and review the theater accessibility. Did you catch that? She contacted ME! I see that as a sign that her interest is not just about meeting code, but about caring. She really is concerned that people with mobility challenges and disabilities can have a great experience at a Sonoma Arts Live performance.
So we accepted her invitation and were there on the opening weekend of “Noises Off”, a hilarious farce about life in the theater. There is talent in this little town, and it was evident in this production. A night at the theater enjoying a play or musical presented by Sonoma Arts Live would be a great addition to anyone’s itinerary, even someone with mobility challenges.
The accessibility is great. Sonoma Arts Live is housed in the Sonoma Community Center, originally the Sonoma Grammar School, built in 1915 as mentioned earlier. The building is an imposing structure, with 4 steps leading up to the main entrance, and at first glance hardly seems accessible.
But the theater for Sonoma Arts Live is on the western end of the building, with an entrance that has no stairs, and a gently graded ramp with handrails. This is the theater entrance used by everyone, so people with mobility challenges aren’t met with the task of finding the “handicap entrance” and can walk/roll in with the other theater goers. That always feels good.
The 4 accessible parking spaces, 1 being van accessible, are also on the western end, a very short distance to the theater entrance, and connected with a paved walkway to avoid having to go out to the sidewalk. So parking was easy, and the distance to the theater was easy.
As we were coming up the Red Carpet we were greeted by Brooke Tansley, the new Artistic Director. Coming from Broadway with the leading role of Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”, Brooke is an amazing addition to Sonoma’s theater scene. Initially she came from New York to be one of the Broadway performers with Transcendence Theater’s “Broadway Under the Stars” at Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen. Then she fell in love with Sonoma, and taking the position of Artistic Director with Sonoma Arts Live allowed her to stay here year-round. New York’s loss, Sonoma’s gain.
After I picked up my tickets at the accessible box office window, Brooke escorted us to our seats.
The configuration and structure of the theater seats makes it possible that numerous seats are potentially accessible. The seats are connected to each other in a way that they can be popped apart and moved. Rows A-G are all on a flat floor, so an usher can pop off an end seat of those rows to create an empty space for a wheelchair or scooter. Or if you’re using a walker or cane the seats are accessible as is.
We were in Row H, the front row of the back section which is designated as accessible seating on the website’s seating chart. Rows I-K have steps up the riser, so are not accessible for anyone who can’t climb stairs. In Row H Brooke popped off the end seat and I was able to stay in my scooter, next to a companion seat for Chip. For those who want to transfer to a theater seat, a wheelchair or scooter can be moved to the adjacent side lobby for storage during the show. It’s a small theater so there’s not a bad seat in the house, and Row H had a great view of the stage.
With our seating confirmed we moved to the Rotary Kitchen where we found pre-show (and intermission) snacks and libations. It is Wine Country after all. Allow enough time to get settled and enjoy a glass of wine before the show! It’s a short distance and all flat with wide doorways. We had a snack and a glass of wine and hustled back to our seats just in time for the show to begin.
At intermission the restrooms completed the accessibility survey. There is an accessible unisex restroom in addition to the Women’s restrooms with 1 wheelchair accessible stall, and the Men’s restrooms with 1 accessible stall and 1 wheelchair accessible stall.
This was a great night at the theater. The accessibility was so easy in every way without any hassle or worry. The play was hilarious and the acting superb. Sonoma Arts Live is a wonderful component of the developing Sonoma arts and culture scene.
Beyond the summer Sonoma Arts Local performances, there is the promise of Sonoma Arts Laughfest, a fall comedy festival with standup, sketch, and improv from Los Angeles and New York, followed by Sonoma Arts Immersive in the winter with musical talent from Los Angeles and New York. This just keeps getting better! Yes, people with mobility challenges and disabilities can have a great theater experience with Sonoma Arts Live.
- 4 accessible parking spaces short distance to entrance; 1 of which is van-accessible space
- main building entrance accessible to all with gentle sloping ramp, hand rails, and wide doorway
- automatic door opener button
- box office accessible to all
- wide theater entrance accessible to all
- wheelchair and scooter accessible theater seating with companion seating
- walker, scooter, wheelchair storage for those who want to transfer
- accessible snack bar with low counter, wide and flat door thresholds
- accessible unisex restroom: roll-under sink, lever operated faucet, viewable mirror from wheelchair, soap dispenser adjacent to sink, sufficient unencumbered space between sink and toilet, grab bar on left and behind toilet.
- women’s restroom: roll-under sinks, lever operated faucet, viewable mirror from wheelchair, soap dispenser and paper towel dispenser adjacent to sink, 1 wheelchair accessible stall with grab bar on right and behind toilet
- men’s restroom: roll-under sinks, lever operated faucet, viewable mirror from wheelchair, soap dispenser and paper towel dispenser adjacent to sink, 1 wheelchair accessible stall with grab bar on right and behind toilet
Buying Tickets for Accessible Seating:
The website seating chart indicates Wheelchair Accessible Seating in Row H, the first row of the back riser section (floor level with a wide aisle separating this section from the front section). Patrons can transfer to a theater seat and walkers, wheelchairs or scooters can be stored in the adjacent hallway. If patrons prefer to stay in their wheelchair or scooter, the theater seat will be quickly detached and removed by an usher to create wheelchair/walker space beside a companion seat. If patrons prefer to be seated closer to the stage, the same seat removal can be performed at the end of any theater row A-H. Rows A-H are on a flat floor. Rows I-K are on a riser and are not appropriate for accessible seating. Reserved seats can be booked on-line.
TIP: Arrive early to allow time for any seat adjustments and to enjoy a glass of wine before the show.
To buy tickets: http://sonomaartslive.org/shows-tickets
For special accommodation call 707-938-4626