Every word counts

What is captioning?

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 people, the captions give additional information that is helpful to deaf and hard of hearing audiences, such as indicating speaker names, sound effects and offstage noises. A qualified captioner prepares the captions in advance so that they mirror the rhythm and flow of the actors’ delivery, then cues them ‘live’ as the action unfolds on stage.

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 lost.

Captioning is about developing new audiences, bringing former audiences back to the theatre and providing a more enjoyable experience for current audience members, whether they have a hearing loss or not.

This short film, Captioning in Theatre, 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 and includes an excerpt from a well-known novel with the high frequencies removed. The same clip is then played again, this time with captions.

To find out a little about the work of a captioner, have a look at our film, A Play in the Life of a Captioner,

What hearing loss can sound like

Even state-of-the-art digital hearing aids can't perfectly restore hearing for people whose inner ears have been damaged by noise exposure, medications or just the wear and tear of ageing. Part of the problem is that this kind of  sensorineural hearing loss – the result of permanent damage to the sensory cells of the inner ear – does more than just make sounds quieter. It can jumble the sounds, too, in ways that garble speech.

To give you an idea of how wild these distortions can be, have a look at this article, The Real Sounds of Hearing Loss  and listen to some of the demos.

What audiences say about captions

'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.'

More feedback here.

The Arts Council
The Arts Council
The Arts Council