Bratton Provides Trial Run for New Amp’s RF System

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This year in Bratton Theater, audiences can get a taste of the rebuilt Amphitheater.

Chautauqua Theater Company has installed a new hearing assistance system, the only one of its kind on the grounds. The system was purchased after successful tests during last year’s production of Intimate Apparel. Next year, it will be joined by a like system at the Amp.

The new radio frequency system, or RF, replaced the old infrared, or IR system. IR systems are still in use at the Amp, Norton Hall, the Hall of Philosophy, Smith Wilkes Hall and the Hall of Christ.

Infrared technology is being phased out by Sound Associates, the New York City-based company the Institution works with.

“The infrared technology is just outdated,” said Jennifer Jansen, performing and visual arts project manager in Chautauqua’s Program Office.

The infrared systems are easily disrupted by light, which presents a number of problems. Sunlight during shows can prevent the system from working properly, an issue that’s been exacerbated by the removal of trees near the Amp. And anyone who’s attended a morning lecture knows that even the light of a camera flash can cause the system to pop in users’ ears.

Additionally, if users wear the infrared system’s headsets flipped the wrong way, they’ll only hear static.

That’s because FC lights on the headsets need to be able to see diodes or panels for the infrared system. Amanda Labonte, the audio engineer for Bratton Theater, said the infrared hearing assistance system works like a television remote. The light on a remote needs to line up with the TV, and the same can be said for the headsets.

But in Bratton, that’s no longer the case. Instead of lights or panels that the headset has to point to, the RF headsets work with an antenna that’s in the theater. That means an audience member can sit anywhere and hear the show, something that’s not currently true at Norton Hall.

At Norton, where the IF system is still in place, audience members in the first row or in the balcony experience problems with the system, according to Bratton and Norton house manager Matt Vaessen.

Vaessen said Bratton Theater’s new RF receivers, which each include a digital display and have more buttons than the IF ones, have a greater learning curve for audience members, and the old IF system in Norton is still working and popular with patrons.

At Bratton, he’s had an overwhelmingly positive response. He said more people are using the RF headsets in Bratton Theater than were using the IR headsets before.

“Everybody that has used it correctly absolutely love it; it’s the best system they’ve ever used,” he said.

He knows two people who have started going to the theater because of the RF system after taking time off because they couldn’t hear with the IF.

Audiences can try out the new system in CTC’s The Taming of the Shrew, which opens with a preview showing at 8 p.m. Friday in Bratton.

“Just because you’re losing your hearing doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy theater,” Labonte said.

Georgeanne Oliver

The author Georgeanne Oliver

Georgeanne Oliver is the theater reporter for The Chautauquan Daily. She attends Northeastern University as a member of the class of 2017 and is originally from Maine.