Lyric Opera of Chicago announces the launch of a new accessibility initiative for its 2023/24 Season: the SoundShirt, a pilot program that brings wearable technology to the opera house for the first time. The SoundShirt allows all audience members, but particularly those who are deaf or hard of hearing, to experience live opera enhanced by real-time vibrations. The pilot program begins with the performance of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman on Sunday, October 1.
SoundShirt wearers experience the feeling of music rendered on their upper body through a process known as haptic actuation. While the orchestra and artists perform in the pit and on stage, microphones capture their sound and transform it into a digital feed for the SoundShirt wearers. Computer software then transforms this closed-circuit audio feed into touch data that is then broadcast wirelessly to the SoundShirts in real time with the music and voices. Different instruments and voices map to different locations across the body and sleeves of the garment, creating a deepened multisensory experience for operagoers.
"I am proud that Lyric Opera of Chicago will be the first opera company in the world to bring this new technology to its live audiences," says Anthony Freud, Lyric’s General Director, President & CEO. "The SoundShirt reinforces Lyric’s commitment to accessibility and to broadening the impact of our live performances on all audience members."
The SoundShirt pilot program is presented in partnership with the City of Chicago’s Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD). Rachel Arfa, the first deaf commissioner of MOPD, tested the technology last season. "The SoundShirt gave me access to the sound of the performance in a way I have never experienced before, and it honestly made my experience at Lyric even more richly satisfying," she says. "Chicago has long been known for its embrace of innovation and for its spirit of inclusiveness, so it is fitting that this technology is being piloted by one of our city’s — and the world’s — most important cultural institutions."
The SoundShirt was invented and produced by London-based CuteCircuit, a wearable-technology fashion brand that has designed in collaboration with Converse and Chanel, among others. The SoundShirt was named one of "The Best Inventions of 2020" by Time magazine. To better interpret the unique qualities of live opera and musical-theater performances, the current SoundShirt software was refined through extensive testing at Lyric during the 2022/23 Season.
A limited number of SoundShirts will be available for use at selected performances of each opera during the season-long pilot program. The SoundShirt performance dates also feature core accessibility services such as audio description or American Sign Language interpretation.
- The Flying Dutchman: Sunday, October 1 at 2 p.m.
- Jenůfa: Sunday, November 12 at 2 p.m.
- The Daughter of the Regiment: Thursday, November 16 at 2 p.m.
- Cinderella: Sunday, January 21 at 2 p.m.
- Champion: Wednesday, January 31 at 2 p.m. & Saturday, February 3 at 7:30 p.m.
- Aida: Sunday, March 17 at 2 p.m.
For more information on the SoundShirt program, to watch a video of test users experiencing the new technology, and to purchase tickets for SoundShirt performances, visit lyricopera.org/SoundShirt.
For more information on the many other accessibility assets on offer at Lyric — including audio-described and American Sign Language-interpreted performances, assistive listening devices, braille and large-print program books, improved wheelchair seating, and more — visit lyricopera.org/accessibility.
From: Michael Solomon, Director of Media Relations
The SoundShirt program is made possible by the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Innovation Initiative and supported in part by a grant from the League of Chicago Theatres and ComEd.
Lyric Opera of Chicago is committed to redefining what it means to experience great opera. The company is driven to deliver consistently excellent artistry through innovative, relevant, celebratory programming that engages and energizes new and traditional audiences.
Under the leadership of General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud and Music Director Enrique Mazzola, Lyric is dedicated to reflecting, and drawing strength from, the diversity of Chicago. Lyric offers, through innovation, collaboration, and evolving learning opportunities, ever-more exciting, accessible, and thought-provoking audience and community experiences. We also stand committed to training the artists of the future, through The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center; and to becoming increasingly diverse across our audiences, staff, programming, and artists—magnifying the welcoming pull of our art form, our company, and our city.
Through the timeless power of voice, the splendor of a great orchestra and chorus, theater, dance, design, and truly magnificent stagecraft, Lyric is devoted to immersing audiences in worlds both familiar and unexpected, creating shared experiences that resonate long after the curtain comes down.
Join us @LyricOpera on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Youtube, and Facebook. #LongLivePassion
For more information, visit lyricopera.org.
Lyric Opera of Chicago thanks its Official Airline, American Airlines, and acknowledges support from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.