HAYWARD -- Renovations to make Douglas Morrisson Theatre more comfortable for disabled patrons will be completed soon, just weeks before the fall season begins.
"A person in a wheelchair can now wheel directly into the theater and have a designated place on the lobby level," said Karl Zabel, operations and development supervisor for the Hayward park district, which runs the theater. Companion seating is being provided for those accompanying patrons in wheelchairs.
The theater was built in 1978, before the American With Disabilities Act became law in 1990. Before now, the theater had made space for wheelchairs at the end of two rows.
"It's a tremendous improvement; it should be more comfortable," said Susan Evans, the theater's artistic director. "There's no difference in sight lines than before except they're a little better."
The bathrooms were upgraded to be ADA compliant, and a set of the front doors can now be automatically opened. Handicapped-accessible parking spaces were widened, and the sidewalk from the parking lot to the theater was redone so the slope meets ADA standards, Zabel said.
The $350,000 project is being paid for with money from Measure WW, a parks improvement bond voters approved in 2008. The Hayward Area Recreation and Parks District has been upgrading facilities throughout the district to make them ADA compliant as funding allows.
"We're really trying hard to make improvements throughout the district," Zabel said.
That was welcome news to the head of a nonprofit group that advocates for the rights of people with disability and accessibility for everyone.
"That's wonderful. I'm glad the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District has put in place a plan to make their parks and venues more accessible to the community," said Sheri Burns, executive director of Community Resources for Independent Living.
The theater opens its new season Aug. 29 with "Wonder of the World," which Evans described as a zany comedy by David Lindsay-Abaire.
"Most people know Lindsay-Abaire from 'Rabbit Hole,' but he began his career with wacky plays," she said.
The theater will perform Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" musical, based on Voltaire's book, in November.
"It's very witty, with an absolutely gorgeous score," she said.
In February, Evans will direct "Three Sisters," the first Chekhov play performed at Douglas Morrisson.
A second musical, "Hank Williams: Lost Highways," takes the stage in April. The season wraps up with Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of our Teeth," in May.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.
Douglas Morrisson Theatre opens its new season with a comedy by David Lindsay-Abaire.
When: Aug. 29-Sept. 18
Tickets: $29-$32; discounts for seniors and students
Details: 510-881-6777; www.dmtonline.org