Ryerson Theatre School students currently use the stairs to get to and from classes and performances. PHOTO: SIERRA BEIN

Theatre school building stuck with stairs

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By Sierra Bein and Laura Woodward

The Ryerson Theatre School (RTS) building’s lack of accessibility has been a problem in the past and will most likely continue to be a problem in the future for all students – even those without disabilities.

Built in 1885, the three-storey RTS building has no elevators, ramps or automatic doors – just steep, narrow flights of stairs leading to classrooms and theatres on the upper floors.

“I would definitely say the accessibility is a problem,” said secondyear theatre production student, James Peters. In the past, Peters has helped carry a person in an electric wheelchair up the stairs.

“Three people had to carry the chair and two people spotted so that the chair wouldn’t get damaged,” he said. “Quite often we carry people up the stairs – more often than you think.”

Peters said that while theatre production has safety standards and precautions to ensure no one gets injured, dancers often hurt themselves during practice when they do not land properly.

In March The Eyeopener wrote of a second-year dance student who had to carry her wheelchairbound mother – who is fighting lung, bone, brain and liver cancers – up the RTS staircase so she could watch her daughter perform.

But upon further investigation, The Eyeopener found that it is not just people with disabilities who are affected by the accessibility issue.

Students who get injured and students who need to move props are affected as well.

For dance students, injury is nearly impossible to avoid. So are the RTS steps.

“Just the other day a girl popped out her knee and the Toronto EMS was struggling to get her to the ambulance because of all the stairs,” said first-year dance student Stella Medley.

Sarah Mclennan, another firstyear dance student, has been struggling to get to her classes because of her latest ankle injury.

“It’s really hard to get up and down the steps with crutches,” Mclennan said. “An elevator would be helpful.” Peter Fleming, RTS production and operations manager, said that not having accessibility has been a challenge for everyone.

“Of course even if they were to put an elevator into the building, all the floors are different heights anyways so you’d have to ramp between different floors,” he said.

“We could use [an elevator] to move set and costume items up and down, I mean not just for people,” Fleming said. “We carry sets up and down two and three flights of stairs. We often think ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have one.'” Second-year theatre production student Perrin Bryson has had to move equipment and sets up the flights of stairs for the performances she’s worked on.

“I’ve torn several muscles from moving equipment or set pieces for a show,” Bryson said.

“Sometimes it puts us behind based on our schedule, if it’s heavier than expected. It throws off the show more than the academic part of the program,” she said.

Ryerson president Sheldon Levy acknowledged that this has been a problem. He says there has been a search for a solution since before he took his position with the university.

“We are always trying to put in money to be able to make it a little bit better and I know that Julia Hanigsberg is now talking with the theatre on [a] hybrid solution, using some of the facilities on campus but not in the theatre school to help them out,” he said.

“We think an elevator would cost $3.5 to 4 million,” said Hanigsberg, vice-president of administration and finance, by email.

The university has looked at five or six different solutions, including other theatres in Toronto.

“None of them worked for what is needed by the school – the closeness the students need to this campus and the cost,” Levy said.

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