REDWOOD THEATRE IN GREENWOOD-COXWELL: A NEW STANDARD FOR ACCESSIBLE NIGHTLIFE

THE GREEN LINE
ORIGINAL STORY

Redwood Theatre in Greenwood-Coxwell: A New Standard for Accessible Nightlife

The Green Line learned how the theatre's innovative technology helps people with hearing loss feel sound.

Maria Karam, Executive Director, Redwood Theatre stands in front of circus equipment.

MARIA KARAM, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE REDWOOD THEATRE STANDS IN FRONT OF CIRCUS EQUIPMENT.
📸: AMANDA SERAPHINA/THE GREEN LINE

Aneesa Bhanji BW

ANEESA BHANJI

Currently a journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University who's also studying communication and design. Grew up in Vaughan, now living in downtown Toronto. Always loves a good chai latte.

Amanda Seraphina James Rajakumar BW

AMANDA SERAPHINA JAMES RAJAKUMAR

Indian immigrant with a post-grad in journalism from Centennial College. Now living in Grange Park, meeting new people, and hearing different stories. Has four names, so it’s a pick-your-player situation.

February 9, 2024

For those with disabilities, attending a show at just any Toronto venue isn't that simple.

That's why one local theatre in Greenwood-Coxwell is trying to change that.

Located near Gerrard Street East and Greenwood Avenue, the building that houses The Redwood Theatre has been an institution in the neighbourhood for over 100 years. Built in 1914 as a vaudeville theatre, it served a new community developing east of the Don River at the time. Since then, the building has been through many changes.

In 2017, condo developers were about to take it over until Greenwood-Coxwell resident and inventor Maria Karam bought the building to transform it into a performing arts hub that's accessible to everyone.

Today, the Redwood includes a theatre, recording facility, cafe, art gallery, performance centre, circus space, innovation lab and music venue.

“The theatre is barrier-free, so it has an accessible washroom and there are no stairs anywhere in the main theatre," Karam says. "The stage, however, is on a different level, but it can be accessed from the back door on a very small step. And we have tactile acoustic devices, which are vibrotactile systems that can allow people with hearing loss to gain a better sense of the music.”

 

Karam invented these systems at Toronto Metropolitan University's Inclusive Media Design Centre. Today, The Redwood is the world's only space that gives audience members with hearing loss the chance to feel sound.

Local resident and musician Brian Blain has used this technology since it was introduced at the theatre. He says it adds a whole other dimension to live music.

“As I get older. I'm 77 years old now, losing the hearing on one side, and next will be the other side. So yes, it does enhance the experience," said Blain. “In music world, musicians would often say, people, your audience, doesn't really remember the lyrics or the fancy solo you played, they remember how you made them feel, you know? And now that's taken it to another level, how you felt from that performance, you know, because it was really in your body.”

Brian Blain uses tactile acoustic devices

BRIAN BLAIN, LOCAL RESIDENT AND MUSICIAN, USES THE REDWOOD'S TACTILE ACOUSTIC DEVICES TO FEEL SOUND.
📸: AMANDA SERAPHINA/THE GREEN LINE

 

 

Beyond physical accessibility, the theatre also aims to be an inclusive space.

Rainbow Circus is a program that teaches circus skills to local youth who are queer, trans and neurodivergent, so accessibility was top of mind for program director Jayeden Walker when she was deciding where to hold classes.

“Coming to Toronto as a young person — as a young queer person — and trying to find spaces where I could connect with people, [I found] that really hard. So you know, there's Church Street and there are bars, but if you're not going out and partying and drinking and dancing, it can be really hard to find community," Walker explains.

"And I think that, for me, I've always found community through movement. And so, I wanted to be able to create spaces [for] youth particularly because it's so much harder to access communities as youth."

Jayeden Walker, Program Director, Rainbow Circus stands in The Redwood Theatre.

JAYEDEN WALKER, PROGRAM DIRECTOR OF RAINBOW CIRCUS, TEACHES YOUTH IN THE REDWOOD THEATRE.
📸: AMANDA SERAPHINA/THE GREEN LINE

 

 

Cameron Chapnick, a 17-year-old student at Rainbow Circus, found this sense of community through Rainbow Circus at The Redwood.

“The first time I ever came out and told someone my pronouns was my first day of Jayeden’s class because she introduced herself with her pronouns. And I felt like I could introduce myself with mine, too. And she just accepted me immediately into the class," Chapnick says. "And so, it's always felt like a place where I've been safe and cared for."

Students practice their circus skills at The Redwood Theatre.

STUDENTS PRACTICE THEIR CIRCUS SKILLS DURING RAINBOW CIRCUS CLASSES AT THE REDWOOD.
📸: AMANDA SERAPHINA/THE GREEN LINE

 

 

Although finances have been a barrier for the theatre, Karam is determined to keep it running for years to come.

“The term accessibility is really loaded. There is the physical access so that you can roll in and out on your wheelchair. There's also, you know, accessibility in terms of it's a safe space for anyone," Karam explains.

"I think that having a space like this, in a community like this, is very rare now in Toronto. And I think it's extremely warming and comforting to see that there is a place where people can go and just be treated like a neighbour and feel like this is their space.”

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THE REDWOOD THEATRE

RAINBOW CIRCUS