Theatre for the Majority not the Minority


Theatre for the Majority not the Minority

Captions which should be as close as possible to the action so that deaf and hard of hearing audiences can see the stage action and captions in comfort and within one visual frame.

A trained captioner prepares the captions in advance, checking them several times at the theatre beforehand to make sure that they match the actors’ delivery. The captioner also works closely with the production team, usually the Deputy Stage Manager, to ensure that any changes or deletions to the script are incorporated. They also add sound effects and offstage noises.

At the performance, the captioner cues the lines as the action unfolds on stage. Should an actor miss a line, the captioner will try and skip over it so that it doesn’t appear on the caption unit, although this may not always be possible in very fast dialogue. Similarly, if lines are said in a different order, the captioner will try to follow the actor, depending on the speed of delivery.

Timing of the captions is crucial so as not to pre-empt the actors, especially if the text involves a key punchline or joke. It’s important that the text does not lag behind the actors because the ability of many people to ‘hear’ the actors more clearly is then lost.

When outputting text, the captioner needs to make decisions about:

  • the size of the text
  • the amount of text delivered at any one time
  • the speed of delivery and whether to edit very fast productions
  • the use of pauses
  • the use of blank screen to enable viewers to watch purely visual action onstage

Can Captions be delivered “live” to a performance?

Sometimes this is possible, for example

if a production has to be stopped for some reason and there is an announcement. However, the text tends to come up late and the quality of the captions suffers.

For long periods of unscripted dialogue, Stagetext has occasionally used a speech-to-text reporter to deliver the ‘live’ parts of a production and a captioner to deliver the scripted dialogue. This involves linking the STTR’s and the captioner’s equipment to the caption unit and switching between the two at the appropriate time.

How is the position of the caption unit determined?

For the first Stagetext captioned performance in a new venue the position of the caption unit is agreed following a discussion between ourselves and the technical staff at the theatre. Sometimes the director and production company may be involved.

Many theatres now have their own captioning equipment and use local captioners or hire a Stagetext captioner. In these cases, it is the theatre’s responsibility to decide on the position of the caption unit. The aim is to achieve maximum access with comfort for deaf, deafened and hard of hearing patrons with minimum influence on the artistic integrity of the performance and the actors involved.

As we have discovered, each theatre may have very different ideas about where this compromise should be reached. With goodwill all round, it is possible to achieve a satisfactory outcome for all parties. We try to make the caption unit as unobtrusive as possible and, interestingly, it has been thought to be less intrusive in the set rather than outside it, for example positioning it over a doorway, on top of a cupboard, or by hanging one at the back of the stage so it can just be seen over the actors’ heads. This enables deaf and hard of hearing audiences to take in the action and read the captions in one visual frame.

Can captions be Distracting for the hearing audience ?

Occasionally, some theatres are concerned that the captions will be distracting for the hearing audience. However, the feedback we have received indicates that hearing people, on the whole, either find the captions useful (for example, if there are difficult accents in the play or if the language is archaic or unusual) or they are prepared to tolerate them, accepting that the captions are useful to deaf and hard of hearing patrons. A small number of hearing people do not like them at all.

Stagetext receives very few complaints about captioning from hearing people; in fact, many of them like it and comments from hearing people such as “Theatre is for the majority, not the minority” are, thankfully, extremely rare.

Theatres need to make it clear in their literature, on their website and at the box office that a performance is being captioned on a particular date and explain how it works. However, since only one or two performances are captioned it is not unreasonable to expect some degree of tolerance. Everyone who attends a captioned performance should be treated equally, hearing or not. It’s part of the theatre’s customer care.

Why aren’t there more captioned shows?

It’s usually a question of cost. For big West End shows we can sometimes negotiate two captioned performances – usually a matinee (which many older people prefer) and an evening

(for people who are working). We also try to book repeat captioned performances of long-running shows at regular intervals.

Stagetext often captions plays and musicals on tour and is discussing how to make this a more regular occurrence so that more deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people have an opportunity to enjoy the productions.

As more and more theatres invest in their own captioning equipment and local people or staff are trained as captioners, the cost of delivering the service can be greatly reduced.

to find out up and coming captioned shows please email