Sensorium Ex





SENSORIUM is a multi-modal arts  project exploring fundamental questions of what it means to have voice. The project is centered around the opera, Sensorium Ex – a multi-sensory narrative woven together at the intersections of disability and artificial intelligence. Sensorium is committed to developing  new methods for collaboration and impact between the arts, sciences, and the lived experiences of individuals and communities.







Synopsis: A mother’s love, science/tech ethics, romance, corporate greed, a mystical escape, and a robot named Sophia come together in this story about what it means to be human...

An evil Corporation (CORP) devises a program to create the “perfect human” and conscripts Mem and Mycelia, two scientists, to develop the final piece of a breakthrough Artificial Intelligence algorithm named Sophia, the amalgamation of all you will see. She is you.

Mem is the lead researcher, and is the mother of Kitsune, a child with a disability. She soon realizes the CORP has targeted her child’s genetic material to use for their program.

Are these scientists the researchers or the experiment? And is there any escape? Holding the answers is a child who doesn’t speak but whose disabilities manifest an otherworldly realm.

The Sensorium Ex Opera, commissioned by VisionIntoArt and Beth Morrison Projects, and supported by the Ford Foundation, is centered on the nature of voice beyond language, and how to creatively explore and express forms of non-speaking or non-typical patterns of speech and voice in opera. Artificial intelligence plays a role in expanding the possibilities for voice and expression in this dystopian tale.

Kitsune is a young boy with a disability who is non-speaking - and much of the Opera centers around his relationship with his mother Mem, as they seek to explore their own forms of expression, listening and exchange beyond the conventions of spoken language.  Kitsune’s role will be co-created with the person cast to play the role in collaboration with our choreographer in terms of movement. In a culminating scene of the opera called “the escape”- traditional notation will be replaced by medieval chant notation-neumes and a mixture of sound and language and direction and color. Like Benedectine monks, the ensemble will improvise on a series of calls and responses within which Mem and Kitsune are held. Improvisation can mean that there is an embodied and shared sense of space and purpose. In this instance, like the monks, there is a devotional and safe and healing space created for this decision where Kitsune’s agency is made clear.

Sophia is the robot narrator of the story, an amalgamation of the memories and lived experiences of many of the opera’s main characters. Her musical voice will be developed through a co-creative process which seeks to build new, inclusive AI datasets around non-normative patterns of voice and speech.


Sensorium AI is an international research, arts and technology project, with the overall aim of democratizing the development of voice-recognition AI and expanding possibilities for creative expression of voice.

The project has a specific focus on strengthening the experience of voice for people with voice-related disabilities, speech impairments and atypical speech patterns - beginning with the Cerebral Palsy community and expanding outward from there. Sensorium AI will place an emphasis on both physical voice and expression, as well as voice in terms of social and democratic participation.

The Sensorium AI project will explore voice-AI as part of a broader project with an interwoven set of outcomes and impacts working at the intersections of voice, disability, identity and technology. The project will provide a key opportunity to engage the broader public in developing more nuanced understandings around voice and the meaning of voice centered around a co-design process with the Cerebral Palsy community, with the research and development anchored by NYU and Arup.. This collaborative process will generate new possibilities for developing creative and authentic expressions of voice, in all its forms - physical, social, cultural, and democratic.

The project will manifest through two core outputs:

INSTALLATION: An interactive art installation/app exploring the relationships between voice, expression and identity. The installation will utilize music, movement and other expressions developed through the co-design process - to allow participants to experiment with different expressions of their voice and their relation to other people’s voices. This installation is intended to be designed to tour and/or take place at multiple sites simultaneously and engage local communities in understanding and contribute to the overall project. One expected site is the opera itself, with the installation becoming the container where audience and character meet, where data and impact can be noticed in real time.

OPERA/SOPHIA: Sensorium Ex is an opera exploring themes of disability, voice, technology and family. The story culminates with a narration by Sophia, an AI robot who represents an amalgamation of the other characters in the story. The AI which animates Sophia will be created through the Sensorium AI research process - a technology built to expressively amalgamate the diverse voices of disability communities across the world, and create a ‘living’ chorus of diverse expressions.

In order to develop the most responsive and robust design possible - this initial R&D process will focus specifically on the lived experiences, needs and ambitions of people with Cerebral Palsy. The project will engage two primary stakeholder communities, in order to gather a broad array of perspectives:
1) New York CP Community (5 - 10 people) - via Adapt / CP Foundation / NYU Community Partnerships
2) Sensorium Opera Cast - lived experience and artistic perspectives on disability and voice    


The opera is being documented for posterity and beauty - to artfully showcase the development of the work and its atypical world building through community partnerships and workshops. Documentation also tells the story of shared ownership as it showcases each filmmaker’s creative identity.


Shelley Barry is a multi-award-winning filmmaker. In 2018 she was awarded a South African Film and Television Award for her contribution to the film industry as a person with a disability. She often shoots her own films, exploring the aesthetics of cinematography from the perspective of a wheelchair user. Screenings of her work have been held at major festivals and events around the world. Her work has been acquired by a number of broadcasters, including MTV, DUTV and WYBE in the U.S and SABC and etv in South Africa. Her first film, an experimental documentary entitled: Whole - A Trinity of Being, has exhibited and won awards at international film festivals in NYC, Canada, Moscow, San Francisco, Philadelphia and New Jersey. Shelley is the founder and director of twospinningwheels, a production company that aims to explore new languages in cinema and offers marginalized voices access to the craft of filmmaking. Shelley is currently based at The University of Johannesburg where she teaches film.


Christopher Wessels lives between Finland and South Africa. He is a founding member of Third Space, a collective of artists and curators in Helsinki. He is also a founding member and co-director of the Museum of Impossible Forms (m). At the Mänttä 2015 Summer Art Festival he was part of the Third Space curatorial team invited by Kalle Hamm and Dzamil Kamanger. Christopher has worked as director of photography on seven feature films, various music videos, documentaries and art installations. He regularly collaborates with Mieke Bal (Dutch theorist and video artist) and Tracey Rose. He has been working in the film and television industry for 17 years. In 2006 his graduation project Ongeriewe, of which he was co-writer and Director of Photography, was a finalist in competition (Court Métrage) at the Cannes film festival. Christopher was awarded Best Newcomer at the Durban International Film Festival 2006 for his role in Ongeriewe, and the film was awarded best South African short film at the same festival. Christopher’s latest work as a DOP is Rafiki by Wanuri Kahui and Aland by Thomas Germaine. He seeks to unsettle the constructs of coloniality.

Dana Jaye Cadman (illustrator)

Dana Jaye Cadman, Lecturer, Director of Creative Writing, Pleasantville, and Faculty Advisor for student literary and arts magazine Chroma, holds an MFA in Poetry from Rutgers University Newark. Her creative work has been published in Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, New England Review, PRISM International, The Moth, The Literary Review, Atlanta Review, and Raleigh Review, among others. Her featured performances include New York Shakespeare Convention, North American Bicentennial Conference, and Colorscape Chenango Arts Festival. Her manuscript ARMAMENTS was a finalist in the 2021 Jake Adam York Prize, Hollis Summers Poetry Prize, and Georgia Poetry Prize, and longlisted for the Metatron Prize for Rising Authors. Her visual art is featured in the upcoming opera Sensorium Ex to debut at Atlanta Opera in 2024.


The team is also a reflection of the ethos of the work as members share artistic responsibility. Stemming from learnings during the workshop in Cape Town the artistic team distributes labor as co-directors of specialized aesthetics (Design, Music/Sound, Movement) that does not silo or diminish their voice in the whole, which often happens in other collaborations that favor a singular direction. The hope is this subtle but named shift models the kind of parity from within that faithfully executes the desires of this narrative onstage and in its myriad iterations of performance.

Paola Prestini | Composer

Through an illustrious career being equal parts creator and connector, composer Paola Prestini is known both for her “otherworldly...outright gorgeous” music (The New York Times), as well as the “visionary-in-chief” (Time Out New York) and Co-Founder/Artistic Director of the non-profit music organization National Sawdust, based in Brooklyn, NY. She has been named an “Innovator” on the list of Top 30 Professionals of the Year by Musical America, the country’s oldest classical music magazine; she is on Brooklyn Magazine’s latest list of “influencers of Brooklyn perpetuity” alongside such household names as Chuck Schumer and Spike Lee; she is one of the “Top 35 Female Composers in Classical Music” (The Washington Post); and on the “Top 100 Composers in the World” list by NPR. Prestini’s music and works have been commissioned by and performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Brooklyn Youth Chorus, the Barbican Centre, The Cannes Film Festival, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Los Angeles Opera, The New York Philharmonic, Roomful of Teeth, the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and the Young People’s Chorus, among others.

Brenda Shaughnessy | Poet, Librettist

Brenda Shaughnessy is the author of four poetry collections, most recently The Octopus Museum, So Much Synth and Our Andromeda, which was a New York Times’ 100 Notable Book, a finalist for the Grifn International Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Prize. Her second book, Human Dark with Sugar, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and was the recipient of the James Laughlin Prize of the Academy of American Poets. She received a 2018 Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a 2013 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, was a Bunting Fellow of the Radclife Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and a Japan/U.S. Friendship Commission Fellow of the NEA. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Harpers, The Nation, The New Yorker, Paris Review, Poetry, The Yale Review, and anthologized in The Penguin Book of 20th Century Poetry and O Magazine’s Little Book of...series. She has given readings and talks on poetry at TedX Harvard, the U.S. Library of Congress, the Chicago Humanities Festival, and many universities, libraries, festivals, conferences, and high schools. She is Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Rutgers University- Newark and lives in Verona, New Jersey.

Jerron Herman | Choreographer and Co-Director

Jerron Herman is an interdisciplinary artist creating through dance, text, and visual storytelling. He's based in New York City. Jerron was born and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where he began his career pursuing performance and playwriting. In 2009 he moved to New York City to study Dramatic Writing at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Continuing his dream of crafting stories to be performed, he then studied Media, Culture and the Arts, with an emphasis in Art History and Playwriting at The King's College where he graduated in 2013. While in school he was "discovered" by a choreographer who led him to audition for Heidi Latsky, quickly becoming a key member of her company, Heidi Latsky Dance. Jerron has performed at venues like Lincoln Center and The Whitney Museum of Art, resulting in the New York Times calling him, “the inexhaustible Mr. Herman.” As a strong advocate for disabled athletes and performers, he has been a featured model for both Tommy Hilfiger and Nike. His performances have begun to shed light on an often overlooked niche of performance. He currently sits on the Board of Trustees at Dance/USA . As a writer, Jerron was a finalist for the inaugural Lark Play Development Lab/Apothetae Playwriting Fellowship, 2017. He is a 2020 Disability Futures Fellow, a joint initiative of the Andrew W. Mellon and Ford Foundation, respectively.

Arup - Design Partner

For over 75 years, Arup has been recognised for its vision, talent and tenacity. Dedicated to sustainable development, the firm is a collective of 18,000 designers, advisors and experts working across 140 countries. Founded to be both humane and excellent, we collaborate with our clients and partners using imagination, technology and rigour to shape a better world.

Beth Morrison Projects | Commissioner and Co-Producer

Beth Morrison Projects (BMP) is one of the foremost creators and producers of new opera-theatre and music theatre, with a fierce commitment to leading the industry into the future, cultivating a new generation of talent, and telling the stories of our time Founded by “contemporary opera mastermind” (LA Times) Beth Morrison, who was honored as one of Musical America’s Artists of the Year/Agents of Change in 2020, BMP has grown into “a driving force behind America’s thriving opera scene” (Financial Times), with Opera News declaring that the company, “more than any other… has helped propel the art form into the twenty-first century.” Operating across the US and internationally, with offices in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, BMP’s unique model offers living composers the support, guidance, and freedom to experiment, allowing them to create singularly innovative and impactful projects. Since forming in 2006, the company has commissioned, developed, produced and toured over 50 works in 14 countries around the world, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning chamber operas Angel’s Bone and p r i s m.

Gregg Mozgala, Sensorium Community Lead

Gregg Mozgala is a 2016 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, a 2018 Lucille Lortel Award winner, and a 2022 Kennedy Center “Next 50” Cultural Leader. He is also the artistic director of The Apothetae, a theater organization that he founded in 2012. Mozgala, an actor, writer and dancer who has cerebral palsy, recognized a dearth of theatrical material that dealt with disability in a compelling and satisfactory way, and vowed to make a change. The Apothetae’s full body of work goes beyond the production of plays; the company also serves as a platform for a larger conversation around disability. Mozgala recently starred as the title character on a national tour of "Teenage Dick," a modern take on Shakespeare's "Richard III" centered on the experience of a high school student with cerebral palsy. The play, commissioned by The Apothetae and written by Mike Lew, included performances at the Public Theater in New York and nationally. Mozgala will play King Edward IV/Richmond in this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park presented by the Public Theater in Central Park.

“I have never seen myself on stage until I was on it and other disabled actors say that as well. But there is room. Our stories should be reflected on American stages and everywhere else,” he told Forbes in 2018.

Mozgala has an unmistakable knack for infusing canonical works that already feature themes around disability – Oedipus, Richard III, The Elephant Man, and others – with a contemporary twist. Empowered with a crew of talented actors, administrations designers, Mozgala will stop at nothing to create more employment opportunities for disabled people in the theater world.

NYU Ability Project & NYU Tandon School of Engineering - University Partner

The NYU Ability Project, a joint research initiative with the Occupational Therapy Department (NYU Steinhardt) and the Interactive Telecommunications Program (NYU Tisch) supports research in client-centered, assistive technology and adaptive design for people with disabilities. The Ability Project is an interdisciplinary research space dedicated to the intersection between disability and technology. It fosters collaboration between individuals with disabilities and engineers, designers, educators, artists, occupational and physical therapists and speech language pathologists.

VisionIntoArt | Commissioner and Co-Producer

VisionIntoArt is a non-profit new music & interdisciplinary arts production company in New York City. Since Paola Prestini co-founded the company in 1999 at the Juilliard School, VIA has created and performed over twenty five original works as well as many album releases through their self titled record label. VIA was started by a team of artists at Juilliard in 1999 that included composers Paola Prestini, Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum and Nico Muhly, pianist Stephen Gosling, and conductor Paul Haas. In 2006, dreams parted ways, and the last VIA productions and its touring years were directed by Paola Prestini, with a brief hiatus while Prestini co-founded the arts incubator and micro-institution, National Sawdust.

VisionIntoArt, “always intriguing and frequently beguiling”, is a multimedia production company that “facilitates flamboyant, confounding and enticing collaborations” (New York Times). VIA creates and commissions works that involve various disciplines, presented around the world for the general audience, and forged from the most exciting emerging and established artists living today as well as interdisciplinary experts including scientists and conservationists. VIA works often bridge impact, community building and scientific inquiry, with the belief that collaboration sustains artistic innovation and promotes a healthier society.

VIA’s works range from the Hubble Cantata-the largest communal VR operatic event, to multiplatform works like The Colorado, now viewable on PBS. VIA productions have been seen at Lincoln Center, the Barbican Centre, HIFA in Zimbabwe, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Kennedy Center, along with residencies at MASS MoCA and The Park Avenue Armory. They have also toured to colleges and universities in the US, and to international festivals such as Apertif in Concerto at Teatro Manzoni, Etna Fest in Italy, and BEMUS in Belgrade, Serbia.

Ras Dia | Opera Creative Producer, VisionIntoArt

Ras Dia is a Brooklyn-born, Harlem-bred creative working at the intersection of inspiration and empowerment in the arts. His work has been described as “stirring” (Washington Post), “bracing, compelling, and heartbreaking” (Musical America), and “grippingly produced” (The Boston Globe). Recent projects include Heartbeat Opera’s BREATHING FREE: a visual album, the Frederick R. Koch Foundation’s Townhouse Series, San Francisco Symphony’s MTT25: An American Icon, San Francisco Opera’s In Song, and the inaugural season of Little Island, a public park and arts organization developed by the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation.

Ras previously served as the Assistant Producer of the Metropolitan Opera’s Peabody- and Emmy award-winning Live in HD series, and as the Managing Director of the New York City Master Chorale, in addition to marketing, development, production, and administrative roles with the National Children’s Chorus, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Carnegie Hall, The New School, where he supported programs for immigrant, refugee, and survivor communities across New York City, and National Sawdust, where he produced the Artists-in-Residence program, and co-created SAUCE, a series of artist sessions.

He is a 2021-22 Artist Scholar at the Manhattan School of Music (MSM), and a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Purchase College (SUNY), as well as the Boy’s Choir of Harlem, and has appeared as a guest speaker for the National YoungArts Foundation, Amherst College, the Black Artists Fund, and MSM, in addition to serving as a grant panelist for OPERA America.


Ras Dia