During Captioning Awareness Week, we aim to help raise awareness of captioning within the theatres. Audiences with various forms of hearing loss could have their theatrical experiences transformed by captions and live subtitles. We spoke to our Captioner Claire McIntyre about captioning performances and why it's such an important service for our audiences and to the theatre industry.
What's the process of creating captions and subtitles for performances?
I receive the script at the very beginning of the rehearsal process, which allows me to start to format it so that it can be inputted into the relevant software. Updates and changes can be made to script many times, so any edits will have to be noted and made throughout the rehearsal process. Once the script is done, a DVD is made which I then check against the script to make sure there are no mistakes. Then I will go to see the production and add in any pauses in the dialogue, any sounds or music, and write these into the script.
Overall, I will see the production 2 or 3 times to ensure that nothing is missed. Communication with our Deputy Stage Manager is essential because they will be the first to know if any lines or words, music or sounds will be cut.
How do you caption for music and sounds?
With music, it all depends on your target audience and how integral the piece of music is to the production. If the piece of music is a popular song from a well-known band or artist, someone who your audience will know, then it would be best to caption the artist's/band's name and the name of the track. If the music is integral to the plot, then I reference the name of the piece. Otherwise, you can label the music by its mood and its genre, for example 'haunting classical music', 'upbeat dance music'. I will always check this the Deputy Stage Manager and the Composer to make sure they're happy with my description.
With objects that make sounds, again it depends on how relevant they are and if they can be depicted through visual action. For example, if a telephone rings and a character has to answer, then I will add that the phone is ringing to the captions. If it's a vacuum cleaner, which is more visual, then I might not add the description of the sound to the caption.
What are the challenges of captioning?
At the Octagon, the configuration that is the most challenging to caption in is the round. You have to be aware that sometimes some actions won't be seen by all members of the audience, so you have to caption it. A character might start crying but have their back turned to part of the audience, for example. In this case, I would have to label this so that everyone is aware of what is happening on stage at that time.
Each production has its own eccentricities that I have to successfully convey. The BFG was fun to work on because I had to caption for all the whizz-popping that takes place! Two2 was an extraordinary production to work on because there was live karaoke on stage, which was different in every performance because of the audience participation it involved. It meant that I had to have lots of different tracks and lyrics all lined up and ready. It was quite an adrenaline rush! Noises Off, like other productions, posed a challenge because many actors played multiple characters, so I had to label on the caption when an accent was different or when a mood changed in order for the correct character's dialogue to be identified.
What is the importance of captioning in the theatre?
Visiting the theatre is a communal event, whether you come with family, friends or on your own. Being in the auditorium with the actors and the other audience members makes the theatre a shared experience, and captioned performances mean that those who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing can join in and enjoy our productions with everybody else. Also, anyone can attend captioned performances and everyone can see the captioning screens, so you don't necessarily have to identify as being deaf, deafened or hard of hearing if you don't feel comfortable doing so.
The other benefit is that, while some audience members may be proficient in lip-reading, the round means that you might not always be able to see people's mouths. The captioning screens can therefore help you to never miss a word.
In a recent poll, Stagetext found that familiarity with services to make arts and culture more accessible, such as captioning, is low amongst adults in the UK. Last year, whilst at least 25,000 people benefited from a captioned or live subtitled event, it is estimated 11 million people in the UK have some degree of hearing loss – indicating huge numbers could be missing out.
What does captioning mean to you?
It is a privilege to provide this service here at the Octagon. I used to work on the subtitles on TV, and in that industry you are so distant from the audience. In the theatre, you are a part of the audience as much as anybody else, and you are there to help make sure that the performance is as engaging and as gripping as it should be for everybody. Sometimes people come up to me and thank me for captioning the show, which is such a lovely gesture.
We are #CAPaware17! For further information on accessibility performances and captioned performances click here.