Theatre captions are similar to television subtitles and give people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing access to live performance. The actors’ words appear on an LED caption unit (or units), placed next to the stage or in the set, at the same time as they are spoken or sung.
Unlike opera surtitles for hearing audiences, captions include additional information such as speaker names, sound effects and offstage noises.
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 is vital that the captions do not lag behind the actors because the ability of many people to hear the actors is then lost.
A trained captioner prepares the captions in advance, formatting the script into the captioning software, working with a DVD recording of the show and viewing the production several times. They then cue the captions live as the action unfolds on stage.
Stagetext has produced a short film which explains how captioning can make a real difference to the 1 in 6 people in the population who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. Captioning in Theatre includes an excerpt from a well-known novel with the high frequencies removed. The same clip is then played again, this time with captions.
Have a look at our short film, A Play in the Life of a Captioner, to find out how the captions are prepared.
'It was like clouds rolling away and night becoming day really. It was just absolutely stunning.'
'Captioning has made it possible for me to go to the theatre again. I no longer feel left out.'
'Captions make all the difference between following the play and being baffled.'