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Utah venue is making theater more accessible

ListenLoop enables theaters to provide a complete experience for every audience member

Do you have trouble hearing sometimes, maybe it sounds like people mumble? Or is your hearing problem more profound, and you wear a hearing aid? Well, you’re in good company. About 48 million Americans — 20 percent — have some level of hearing impairment. And if you’re older than 65, one in three Americans has hearing loss. Plus,15 percent of children are impacted by hearing impairment.

Hearing problems can make life more difficult. When your hearing is bad, it can be hard to interact with people around you, and enjoying movies or theater performances is nearly impossible. But a theater in Utah is making a difference, with hearing solutions for everyone.

“We feel like theater — really well done — offers a much-needed escape in an ever-busier world,” said Quinn Dietlein, Hale Centre Theatre’s development director and annual giving manager. “We also feel that this opportunity should be available to as many people as possible.”

So when Hale Centre Theatre started construction of its new $100 million, 122,300-square-foot theater, it added features to make sure everyone can hear. Theater officials estimate they will have about 500,000 patrons every year, and they expect at least 20 percent of them will have some level of hearing loss, Dietlein said.

Hearing Loop

With 100,000 patrons — or more — with hearing loss, Hale Centre Theatre officials wanted to ensure the new venue had systems to accommodate them. In its old location, it had radio frequency assistive listening for people with hearing impairment. It worked, but after getting recommendations from the hearing loss community, theater officials decided the new location needed a hearing loop from Utah-based Listen Technologies, Dietlein said. Listen Technologies even donated the money for the ListenLOOP system, along with other companies. Ampetronic manufactures the system, and Listen Technologies is the exclusive North American distributor.

A hearing loop uses an electromagnetic field to deliver sound to people with telecoil technology in their hearing aids or cochlear implants. It also can send audio to a receiver connected to headphones or earpiece. It’s considered the most discreet solution for assistive listening systems.

“This is potentially so much more inclusive,” Dietlein said of the hearing loop. “I say potentially because we need to educate our community as to how to make this work for them.”

The challenge is letting people know about the hearing loop because it’s invisible and relatively unknown. But once people use it, they’re overjoyed. “The hearing loop at Hale Centre is amazing,” said Maclain Drake, owner of Vibe, which does EDM shows catered for people with all levels of hearing loss. “The front desk was ready to assist us with any of the accommodations for the show.”

Dietlein said people have been most impressed with the hearing loop at the theater, even more than the stage technology that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. The hearing loop is giving patrons an experience they’ve never had before. He said they’ve had people in tears after a performance because of the inclusive technology.

Even Utah’s governor is impressed with the theater and its features. “This is going to become a hub for the performing arts,” Gov. Gary Herbert said at the grand opening. “This is as nice as you’ve seen anywhere in the country, so this is kind of Utah coming of age. When it comes to the performing arts, we are excelling, and the evidence is this new theater.”

With a hearing loop, theater patrons with hearing loss are enjoying theater more than ever before.

Backstage tour tech

Backstage tours are nothing new — they’re a great way to get donors and the community excited about a venue. But the way Hale Centre Theatre is doing them now is brand new. It’s using a communication system suited for noisy environments, and designed in Utah. Tour guides speak into a headset with a microphone. Then the ListenTALK system transmits the sound to each guest. Guests may wear a headset, earpiece or their own earbuds. With this system, the tour guide can talk to the group, and members of the group can speak to the guide and each other — no matter how loud the background noise.

The theater hosts about 200 people every week using the ListenTALK tour system.

“The people are much more engaged because they actually hear details and everyone hears the questions being asked,” Dietlein said of tours with the ListenTALK system. “The group is much safer — we are in a construction zone, and I can point out trip hazards much better. I’m able to raise more money because people are truly so much more engaged. I have been surprised by how effective these have been for me — even in very small groups where I felt initially that the systems would not be necessary.”

With a new communication system, Hale Centre Theatre ensures everyone hears during backstage tours.

When you can’t hear well, it’s hard to enjoy everyday experiences, especially live theater. But with innovative solutions, Utah’s Hale Centre Theatre is making sure everyone enjoys performances and tours. 

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