When Terry Butz saw that "Sisters of Swing" was coming to the Fox Valley Repertory, he thought it would be the perfect night out for his dad, nearing his 90th birthday and mostly blind from macular degeneration.
Butz purchased tickets in the second row so his dad, James, could be close to the action. But when he arrived at the 320-seat theater on the Pheasant Run Resort campus in St. Charles, Butz said the theater staff dropped the curtain on their planned entertainment.
"When we got inside, they told us we couldn't use our second-row tickets," Butz said. "My dad has limited mobility. He's turning 90. He uses a walker. But there are no elevators, no ramps, no way to get him to his seat. They told us he will have to sit at the back of the theater and listen to the performance basically as a radio program."
That wasn't an acceptable solution to Butz.
"There's nothing in that box office that tells you they are not an accessible facility," he said. "I didn't understand why they would sell us a ticket we can't use. It's not the purchaser's obligation to provide a medical history when you buy your tickets."
Butz raised the issue of the Americans with Disabilities Act to management. The federal law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in public accommodation, including theaters such as the Repertory.
Pheasant Run just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Much of the infrastructure predates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990 and was updated in 2008. But the theater underwent $4.5 million worth of renovations in 2003, which would have triggered many of the accessibility upgrades the act requires.
Audra Sybert, brand manager for Fox Valley Repertory, said the theater company is well aware of Butz's complaint. She said when the theater was redone in 2003 it did meet the minimum accessibility requirements.
"We also have hearing devices and signing services and also accessible seating," Sybert said. "But the theater itself is part of Pheasant Run. We're just tenants here."
An organization known as Saint Charles Resort LLC purchased the resort out of bankruptcy in March. Schaumburg-based Hostmark Hospitality Group manages the property. A Hostmark spokeswoman could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Butz said volunteers ultimately assisted his father to his second-row seat, but that didn't create an all's-well-that-ends-well scenario. He wants the theater to be fully accessible to both his dad and other people with disabilities.
To that end, Butz filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice this week outlining all the problems he experienced at the theater.
"If you look at their lineup of shows, they are all geared toward seniors," Butz said. "But they seem to be unwilling to change anything. I take my dad to the Metropolis (Performing Arts Centre) in Arlington Heights. It's almost the same size and setup, but they've installed ramps and accessible bathrooms. They have nothing of that sort at the Fox Valley Repertory."
The website site for filing ADA complaints says it may take three months or longer for Butz's complaint to be reviewed.