Michelle Hedley first discovered captioning in 2011. In this updated blog which Michelle first wrote in 2012 entitled I ♥ Stagetext, she describes how theatre going has become a truly enjoyable experience, and that the captions allow her to fully follow the performance.
I have been deaf since birth and with my severe hearing loss I wear two hearing aids. My education at the time did not permit BSL therefore I communicate by lip-reading and with speech.
I was brought up in a (hearing) family that loved and embraced music and theatre, and naturally, to me, I continued that love. From around the age of 10 I was introduced to Musicals at a local theatre who showcased productions both professional and amateur. Of course I never followed them properly, missing a lot of the dialogue, but loving the atmosphere, sound, costumes and trying to work out the technical side. That musical education continued into adulthood and I still go on a regular basis to my two local theatres. I learnt how to improve my access to the shows by researching the stories and getting the music album if it existed and learning the words before going. I also love sitting in the front rows and watching the orchestra, and if in the right seat behind the MD I love to read the score whilst watching the show!
It was in May 2010 that I saw a chance tweet by an actor called Jonathan Ansell (who I’d just seen play the leading role in Whistle Down The Wind at Theatre Royal in Newcastle) that meant I discovered Stagetext.
I booked up to see the next show available to me with captions in the distant future, which was a few months away in January 2011. I was a bit dubious at first about captions as my seat wasn’t in the stalls close up like I preferred but instead up in the Grand Circle. It felt like a million miles away but I knew I needed to give it a fair chance. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but at the end of Footloose I had a sudden revelation that I had, for the first time in my life, I just understood 100% of the performance.
I had laughed at the same time as everyone else (even knowing what it was I was laughing at!) and enjoyed all the nuances of the script. This realisation was an ecstatic moment for me and one I will remember for the rest of my life.
In the March of the same year I repeated the experience with Blood Brothers, and again I deliberately didn’t research beforehand to see how much of the story I grasped and confirmed that indeed captions help! It was very emotional to be able to laugh, cry and marvel at the spectacle before me, just like everyone else.
I continued to see shows with captions, but it wasn’t until a few months later – when I saw another musical without captions – that I realised just how much I needed them. The captions were in fact a necessity rather than a luxury. It was a sad moment for me as I finally had to admit to myself that no matter how well I could lip-read and communicate, I needed assistance to fully access the theatre.
Stagetext is, without doubt, an organisation that, through its staff, enables the deaf community to access theatre in the UK. Their services are invaluable to me personally and thousands of others. Not only do they allow me to access a performance in its entirety, it also acts as a social catalyst as I can then discuss with my friends/peers in the interval and afterwards.
I cannot stress just how indebted I am to Jonathan Ansell who brought them (unintentionally) to my attention via a tweet that was to change my world forever. Stagetext has enriched my musical world completely and changed it for the better. It can only improve as more and more theatres and production companies begin to realise the impact that captions has on deaf theatregoers.
Although I can never change the fact I am deaf and need assistance to access performances, captions enable me to feel equal to all other theatregoers which is a fantastic feeling.
Since then my experience has been mixed. I continue to see musicals without captions, but it has been hit and miss how much I enjoy them through no fault of the cast. I struggle with the dialogue despite being (mostly) in the front row in order to lip-read and sometimes the only saving grace has been how much I loved watching the MD and the musicians create their magic. I have also seen many shows with captions and love the fantastic feeling it leaves me with for hours, days and weeks afterwards! Thanks to captions I have also been able to explore other genres and try comedy and plays (although my love remains to be musicals!) that had not been accessible before.
There is no doubt in my mind that Stagetext, and captions, have transformed my theatrical life for the better. I would strongly suggest to anyone reading this and who has doubts whether they are ‘deaf’ enough to need captions, please, please, please try just one performance. You never know it may just change your life – like it did mine! Even if you only have a very small hearing loss, or perhaps you used to go to the theatre years ago but gave up because you could no longer catch all the dialogue, please just give it a try! You have nothing to lose, but everything to gain :)
Stagetext would like to thank Michelle for sharing her story with us during Captioning Awareness Week 2015.