It is always helpful to provide information about captioning to your production team and to the actors. The following explains how the captioner prepares for a show and what information they need.
In a captioned performance, the full text of the play or musical appears on the caption unit at the same time as the words are spoken or sung. Speaker names, sound effects, offstage noises and musical descriptions are also shown so that the deaf audience get as full an experience as everyone else.
The captions are prepared in advance so as to mirror the way the actors deliver their lines. Captioners therefore need the most up-to-date script, in Word format, which they then transfer into special captioning software. A video or DVD of the production is also required so the captioner can check the timing and rehearse at home.
Captioners will check the production at least twice in a technical area at the theatre, where they mark their script to capture any pauses or places where the screens must be cleared of text during purely visual scenes. They will also make sure that the captions are accurate and that any script changes are incorporated. Very fast dialogue will sometimes need to be edited in order to provide access; the production team should be informed of this. For example, if several actors are singing different words at the same time, captioners will convey the most important storylines.
Preparing the captions can take many hours – at least 60 in the case of a long and complex show. It is important that actors understand that the final captions reflect the current version of the script, not earlier versions.
The captioner operates the captions live, taking care not pre-empt jokes or important plot points. This means that the deaf and hard of hearing audience laugh or react at the same time as everyone else. If an actor misses a line, or several lines, the captioner will try and skip over them. In fast-moving dialogue, skipping one single line is not always possible.
It is extremely difficult to caption actors’ ad libs, particularly in pantomimes. This is because they are delivered very quickly and the captioner has to type them ‘live’ and the captions appear on the unit long after the audience has reacted to the joke, giving the deaf audience very poor or no access. However, it is possible to include a selection of ‘scripted’ ad libs so that the captioner can skip to the appropriate one at the performance. This is something the captioner will discuss with the production team.
During pantomimes there are often special announcements, for example birthdays of audience members or references to school groups that may attending. The actors usually receive this information during the interval, so it’s the captioner’s responsibility to ask a member of the production team to get this information to them so they can prepare the captions in time for the second half.