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Audio description for theatre?

Like me, you may have begun to hear about this service and be wondering how it works and what it is like.

Two microphones

I recently had the opportunity to attend Bell Shakespeare’s production of Macbeth at the Sydney Opera House and trial their new audio description service.

Before the performance we were able to visit the stage and get close and personal with some of the props and costumes.

At one point my hand was dripping with fake stage blood, very dramatic!

Anybody who is familiar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth will know that it is, visually, all about the blood (there is lots of it spilled), the three witches and the ghosts of the dead.

Each production of Macbeth comes up with a new way of showing these things on stage.

I have some vision but would never be able to pick up these subtle details when watching from the audience.

These are the important and interesting details that you miss if you are Vision impaired.

Having had the chance to touch the stage costumes and props I was later able to understand and visualise what was happening on stage when the ghosts appeared, even though I could not see it.

Which leads me to the Audio description.

Is anyone out there not familiar with the way this works?
For theatre, the audio description is usually live. An audio describer is providing commentary to you through an earpiece as you are watching the play. You will be given information on what is happening on stage. Which actor is speaking, who is moving on and off the stage, important props, lighting, are all some of the details that you might expect to hear through your earpiece as you watch the play.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from it.

Would it be irritating?

Would it be helpful?

Would it be hard to concentrate on the play while listening to commentary in one ear?

I was pleasantly surprised. The audio description was delivered in a skilful and subtle way.

Commentary is only delivered in the gaps between the dialogue, so that it is never competing with the actors’ voices.

Information about the action on stage as well as some information on “tone” is delivered clearly and swiftly.

“The other actors have left the stage. Lady Macbeth stands, alone her arms outstretched…”

“The lights have been turned down low and the stage is now dark.”

I found that the audio description really did enhance my enjoyment and understanding of the play.

Thank you to Susan and Steve for your audio description skill!

As a member of the Visually impaired community and a lover of theatre and the arts I take this opportunity to thank the Opera House for making such a wonderful service available and for showing such initiative and commitment to equal access.

If you haven’t already done so, I definitely recommend that you experience an audio described performance for yourself.

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