CHICAGO — A new audience is getting to experience some of the most beautiful music ever created for the first time.
And it’s all thanks to a new groundbreaking piece of technology.
SoundShirt is designed to allow audience members who are deaf or hearing impaired to enjoy the Lyric Opera of Chicago by using real-time vibrations to convey a performance. Lyric’s senior director of digital initiatives, Brad Dunn, was introduced to the technology in February 2020.
“I was familiar with the company CuteCircuit. They are based in London,” Dunn said. “I had been in London on other business in February 2020 and I visited their studio. They showed me the shirt. They were like, ‘This is our newest thing.’ I tried it and it was amazing. And then the pandemic happened and they really couldn’t launch it.”
With the pandemic now over, The Lyric will be the first in the world to apply the innovation in live opera.
Lyric Opera general director Anthony Freud said one of their focuses over the last several years has been “inclusivity, diversity, equity and access.”
“It is a journey that will continue into the future,” he added. “It is a journey that we are well on the way with and today’s announcement is clearly a very important part of the development of our focus on access in every aspect of our work.”
SoundShirt wearers feel the music in their upper body by haptic actuation. While the orchestra and artists perform in the pit and on stage, microphones capture their sound and translate it into a digital feed, thus giving those with hearing loss a whole opera experience.
Rachel Arfa, commissioner of the Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, who herself is deaf, is appreciative of the technology.
“There was a team of interpreters that I could watch but when I put on the SoundShirt, it actually enhanced my experience by giving me entire access…that I could not hear on my own,” Arfa said.
SoundShirt will be available at certain live performances of The Flying Dutchman beginning on Sunday, Oct. 1.