The Seattle Repertory Theatre has installed a hearing loop system, which enables patrons to hear throughout the theater building, not just in the seats.
Following in Town Hall Seattle’s footsteps, Seattle Repertory Theatre has installed a fully looped assistive listening system. The wireless technology transmits speech or music on stage directly to guests’ cochlear implants or hearing aids equipped with a T-coil, a small coil of wire inside a hearing device that is designed to pick up a magnetic signal.
The hearing-loop system replaces the more common but less effective infrared system, which used invisible light beams to carry sound from the stage to a personal receiver.
That system worked only when patrons were in line-of-sight relation with the stage; if they turned away, they might hear static, and the infrared system would not work when they were in other parts of the theater — concession stand, concierge desk or coat check.
“The Seattle Rep is kind of the heart of the arts and cultural universe here in Seattle — so much discussion about social issues takes place at the Seattle Rep,” said Cheri Perazzoli, the director of advocacy for the Hearing Loss Association of America and the director of Let’s Loop Seattle. “They have national recognition as well, so they can be catalysts for change in the arts community in Seattle and across the country.”
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Seattle Rep began planning the new system after a presentation from Perazzoli, who is hearing-impaired and has been wearing hearing aids since she was 19. She explained to the Seattle Rep’s staff the importance of having fully looped systems in public spaces.
“I have to get there early, and all my friends are having a drink and I’m in line trying to get my equipment, so if for some reason the equipment doesn’t work, I am kind of on the spot,” Perazzoli explained.
One of the beautiful things about the fully looped system, Perazzoli added, is that it allows the hearing-impaired to come in and sit down just like everyone else, as long as their hearing aids or implants are equipped with a T-coil.
Users switch their devices to the “T” setting, which may need to be activated by a hearing specialist before use.
Those without a T-coil can still grab a neck receiver at Seattle Rep’s coat check.
“This empowers me to have control over my own hearing without asking for staff assistance, without asking for permission to hear,” Perazzoli added. “That is extremely empowering for individuals with hearing loss.”
She says having that T-coil symbol around, which signifies whether a certain area is looped, also generates awareness.
“Hearing loss is invisible; other people can’t see that we cannot hear,” she said. “The biggest thing is that it brings hearing loss out of the closet. Because the stigma behind hearing loss is so great, so many, many people would rather not know what is going on than be seen with a hearing aid. We have to make it OK.”
The sound system is manipulated for each show. Producing Director Elisabeth Farwell-Moreland sits in-house during technical rehearsals while wearing a hearing device to make sure guests are getting the best experience possible.
Seattle Rep used its production of “Luna Gale” as a practice run in March.
The money for the installation came from public and private donors.