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New seating, hearing loop debut Friday at the Playhouse

The Flat Rock Playhouse audience will enjoy a historic Homecoming season this year thanks to significant theatre upgrades to the Leiman Mainstage that debut Friday night with the opening of The Jungle Book.

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The upgrades include brand new seating, floor lighting, new carpet and a state-of-the-art hearing loop. The improvements stem from a 2018 patron survey, which outlined a “wish list” from the audience’s point of view, noted Artistic Associate Matthew Glover.

“As a theater with a reputation for providing Broadway-quality productions onstage, it is really important to us to provide the same, top-of-the-line quality experience offstage too,” he said, adding that the new improvements catapult FRP into a modern, comfortable, and singular space for audiences. Blue and black seats in lettered rows, rather than numbered, along with in-floor aisle lighting, make it easier than ever to navigate the space. Brand new carpeting completes FRP’s slick new look.

The Playhouse first broke ground in 1952 when The Vagabond Players built a theater to replace the circus tent that had previously housed performances. Decades ago, founder, Robroy Farquhar said of the transition, “It has been so wonderful to enjoy this new and permanent structure, and to gain relief from the uncertainties and trials of the tent theater.” Much like the Vagabonds that came before, the theatre’s current staff and community stand with the same excitement to be able to make much-needed upgrades to the historic and well-loved Leiman Mainstage.

Through a corporate sponsorship, Asheville Head, Neck, and Ear was an instrumental partner in bringing the hearing loop to the theatre’s list of new amenities. “FRP has been bringing the community together through the arts since 1940. The installation of a loop is an inclusive change to ensure that even those with hearing loss can enjoy performances,” said a spokesman from Asheville Head, Neck, and Ear, which has provided care to Western North Carolina for 40 years. This special system installed by American Hearing Loop will dramatically impact the experience of patrons.

The loop works within an individual’s hearing device. This function, designed specifically for the spoken word, dampens ambient noise. According to James Stowell at American Hearing Loop, who is hearing impaired himself, “It changes your life, improves your health, and doubles the functionality of the device. This hearing loop gives the hearing impaired listener a one-to-one signal so they can understand every word without any background noise.”

With this hearing loop, Flat Rock Playhouse now exceeds ADA compliance and can guarantee that every seat, from the back bench to the first row, will sound like the best seat in the house. Stowell comments, “We tested it twice because we couldn’t believe how perfect it sounded after the first test.”

That is music to the ears of Beverly Zwahlen, a resident of The Cliffs, who championed the adoption of the hearing loop at Flat Rock Playhouse.

“With the hearing loop,” she said, “I can often understand what is being said better than those that hear well. The hearing loop opens up a world of opportunities for those with hearing loss to better understand speech and sound.”

Tickets toThe Jungle Book are on sale now through the box office at 828.693.0731 or online at Season Subscriptions are also on sale through the Box Office until Mother’s Day. Flat Rock Playhouse had the pleasure to work with Rock Creek Containers, American Hearing Loop, and Leicester Flooring.