With great excitement, on April 24, 2016, Seattle Repertory Theatre officially launched induction hearing loops in both its Bagley Wright and Leo K. Theatres, as well as throughout the theatre lobby, significantly enhancing the listening experience for theatre patrons with hearing loss.
Induction loop technology is prevalent in theatres and opera houses throughout the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, but widespread use in the United States has only started in recent years. To date, Seattle Rep is one of only a few arts institutions in the greater Seattle area to install this high performance, user-friendly assistive listening system for those who are hard of hearing.
Hearing loops allow users to connect wirelessly to onstage microphones by pressing a button on their hearing aid or cochlear implant, activating a telecoil—a small copper coil found in most aids and implants. The hearing loop is a copper wire installed throughout the theatre’s seating area that creates a magnetic field that enables sound to be transmitted wirelessly to the listener’s hearing aid.
“Our patrons were telling us our assistive listening systems needed an upgrade, and we’re pleased to introduce this to the Seattle arts community,” said Jeffrey Herrmann, the Rep’s managing director. “Creating an inclusive arts community is a priority for the Rep, and we hope other theatres will follow.”
The Rep already offers patrons with hearing loss a captioned performance of each play, as well as an American Sign Language interpreted performance. Infrared headsets that wirelessly transmit sound to individual headphones were previously available at the Rep, but were often noisy or would cut out during performances.
For patrons who don’t have hearing aids or a personal telecoil receiver, the Rep has headsets available at coat check that can access the new hearing loop technology.
This technology is attracting patrons to the theatre who have not attended or enjoyed live productions for many years. Some audience members informed the Rep they are attending their first play in years now that the hearing loop is installed.
One patron commented he lost most of his hearing 25 years ago and recently attended a play at the Rep specifically to experience the hearing loop. He was ecstatic at how wonderful he could hear, calling it the “best experience he’s had in a theatre in all that time.”
“Even with hearing aids or cochlear implants, it’s a challenge to understand dialogue in venues like theatres,” said Hearing Loss Association of America – Washington (HLAA-WA) president Karen Utter. “Sound amplified over loud speakers is very difficult to understand for many people with hearing loss, even with the best hearing aids or cochlear implants. What’s needed is a clear speech signal transmitted directly to your hearing device, separating the sounds you want to hear from the sounds you don’t.”
HLAA-WA’s advocacy director, Cheri Perazzoli, is the founder of the Let’s Loop Seattle initiative (soon to become Loop Washington). She notes that, “patrons who have telecoils will no longer have to stand in line to check out a receiver, remove their own hearing device to wear the venue’s headphones, or fumble with volume controls in the dark.”
The hearing loop was first put into use in a testing phase for the Rep production Luna Gale, and patrons exclaimed that it was “the best I’ve ever heard a show!” and that “it was so clear, I forgot I had it on.” The hearing loop is available now at the Rep to anyone who would like to use it at any time. Seattle Rep hosted a public unveiling of the hearing loop system on April 24, 2016, prior to a captioned, preview performance of Sherlock Holmes and The American Problem.
The new hearing loop systems at the Rep were installed by DRS Sound Inc. and HearingLoop NW, and were funded by a 4Culture grant, individual donations, and an online campaign through power2give presented by ArtsFund.
Seattle Rep was founded in 1963 and is currently led by Artistic Director Braden Abraham and Managing Director Jeffrey Herrmann. One of America’s premier not-for-profit resident theatres, Seattle Repertory Theatre has achieved international renown for its consistently high production and artistic standards, and was awarded the 1990 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. With an emphasis on entertaining plays of true dramatic and literary worth, Seattle Rep produces a season of plays along with educational programs, new play workshops, and special presentations.