If you’ve been to some of Chicago’s smaller theaters you know the situation: Bathrooms that are shared with the actors, with access often gained only by way of crossing the stage; seats that can take a toll on your back; stairway-only access; precarious exits.

Now, the League of Chicago Theatres has launched a new fund to help improve the city’s performing arts venues.  With the support of a $500,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the goal is to help small theaters and other performing arts venues to become safe, licensed, and accessible under the City of Chicago’s Performing Arts Venue License.

“This is an expansion of a successful program that began through a partnership between MacArthur and the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation,” said Elspeth Revere, MacArthur Vice President for Media, Culture, and Special Initiatives, in a prepared statement.  “It will support Chicago’s already thriving theaters by making more of them accessible, comfortable, and safe for artists and audiences.”

Mark J. Kozy, former director of operations for the Goodman Theatre, has been hired to work with the League on this project. According to Deb Clapp, the League’s executive director, “Mark’s depth of experience in Chicago theater, as well as his comprehensive knowledge of building code and construction practices, will be incredibly valuable to Chicago venues.”

Grants will be made by the League to performing arts organizations to pay some of the costs involved in meeting the requirements for licensing and, in turn, to ensure the health and safety of artists and audiences.  The funds will be available to League members, dance companies and performing arts venues, with preference given to organizations with budgets under one million dollars.

The League will offer support to theaters at all parts of the process, from determining what modifications need to be made to the space until the venue is fully licensed, legal, safe and accessible.  As needed, assistance will be provided with obtaining bids and technical drawings, permits, finding a contractor to do the work, and overseeing that work.  The League will also ensure that theaters are getting all the help and guidance available to them through city resources and will help them to investigate access to additional funding, if needed.

“The League has always been available to assist members in finding out how the PAV fund can best be used,” said Clapp.  “Now that the PAV fund is housed with the League of Chicago Theatres, the League will become a place where theaters can look for expertise on safety, licensing, and accessibility, and where questions will not result in punitive measures, but in solutions.”

The Chicago area is home to more than 250 theaters ranging from storefronts to Tony Award-winning regional companies.