3 January 2014 • by Holly Parker
The Value of Captioning
Since joining the Gate it amazes me how a small theatre with such limited resources continues to provide accessible performances for each show we do. Specifically, the Gate is very popular for captioned shows, a real benefit for hearing impaired and non-native speakers.
The work that goes into providing a captioned show is extensive. It all starts with picking the right date – the industry have a shared calendar so that we don’t all clash our accessible performances – a lot of the time, venues also share the equipment needed. At the model box phase we begin to ask the Designer where the captioning unit will fit within the set and where captioned users will have to sit to get the best view. A show is filmed and sent to a freelance captioner with a script in order for them to plot out the show on a piece of software. They come back twice to ensure that their version of the script fits with the actors’ pace and delivery. We then courier a large LED captioning unit from Soho Theatre and employ technicians to come and hang the unit. The Front of House team are briefed on the night and a staff announcement subtitled on a chalkboard is delivered to audience members before the house opens. Free playtexts are offered to our deaf and hard of hearing audience members so they can also follow the action via text. The captioner then cues the captioning unit live.
If that doesn’t scare a General Manager into thinking their venue couldn’t cope with the numerous problems that could occur with the equipment, availability of staff and nervous cast members – get this – the Gate goes one step further. After each captioned show we offer a free Gate Debate with the cast chaired by our Artistic Director. This is captioned live over skype and a microphone by a separate captioner and projected onto a screen for audience members to follow. They are given paper asking them to write down questions for the Chair if they prefer.
All in all, the process is long, expensive and full of uncertainty when it comes to technical requirements (trust me, I’ve come against them!). It is my most dreaded night of a run, because I worry about everything that could go wrong – it is also the most rewarding, because when we get it right, it really is worth it. I urge everyone to go along to captioned nights and support them – hopefully more venues will get on board and offer them consistently.