Roz chalmers and Alex Romeo are Stagetext captioners, trainers and examiners for the professional qualification for captioners. In aid of Captioning Awareness Week, we asked them some quick-fire questions, recounting some experiences from their impressive captioning careers.
What’s the most memorable captioning experience you’ve ever had and why?
Roz: Captioning at the Royal Court on Who Cares, a promenade performance over a five storey building – racing outside and up and down stairs because the lifts were out of use, in order to get to the next scene ahead of the audience and find a laptop waiting for me, or captioning from a laptop in an ice cream tray hanging round my neck.
Alex: The Producers was pretty memorable – a piece of the set broke down during the captioned performance. The actor ad-libbed a funny line while the techies were fixing it and I typed it. It meant the deaf audience were in on the joke! Rock of Ages was a lot of fun too – one of the actors decided to have a to and fro with the caption unit and we worked out something beforehand. I was typing furiously to keep up with him!
What’s the best part of your job?
Roz: Sitting in my box and seeing our audience react at the same time as the rest of the audience.
Alex: Seeing the deaf audience laughing at the same time as the hearing audience. And also chatting afterwards to see what they thought of the play.
What’s the best play you’ve ever captioned?
Roz: I have no favourites. I normally say the next one!
Alex: Tough! I don’t have a favourite but I have a top ten which fluctuates year to year, including but not confined to: One man, Two Guvnors, The Producers, The Woman in Black, Constellations, The Ruling Class, The Master and Margarita, Rock’n’Roll and This House.
What’s the hardest play you’ve ever captioned?
Roz: London Road was a challenge, but a wonderful one. Eight part singing with everyone singing a different line simultaneously.
Alex: Pantomimes or anything with a live element present a pretty big challenge. But I love a challenge!
Do you ever get nervous before a show?
Roz: Less so now. I was a wreck fifteen years ago. I have learned formatting techniques that help with difficult scripts – and the software is much improved from the early days.
Alex: Not any more, thankfully!
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Roz: Check, check and check again. I’m a constant faffer.
Alex: Find the DSM and ask all my questions: Are there any understudies on? Have any lines been altered/cut/added? Is anything happening at the end of the show? Charity announcements, awards being presented? Etc.
If you weren’t a captioner, you would work as….?
Roz: An audio describer – no, hang on – I do that already!
What would an audience find most surprising about captioning a show?
Roz: I think the fact that we’re not typing it live – if I had a penny for every time someone said ‘You must be a very fast typist!’ If only they knew. I think also the fact that we’re not just putting up a script, we’re trying to reflect a performance, and that performance is never the same from night to night. That’s the beauty of live theatre and the challenge of captioning.
Alex: How much work we put into each show. And the fact that we learn the show and the rhythms of the performances. It’s difficult to explain succinctly but quickly how it works; how we check the show over and over, and how we don’t just turn up on the night with the script that you can buy in a bookshop and press go! We can skip lines if an actor skips a line, and we put in alternate lines to make sure we have the most accurate script possible.
How long does it take to prepare for a captioned a show?
Roz: Depends on the show. I like to see it three times if possible, checking a hard copy of the script to pick up any inconsistencies. It’s almost like learning a piece of music – you have to get the rhythm and the tempo into your head. An initial format of a straightforward captioning script might take between 8 and 10 hours, but then you have the viewings, making any spelling or punctuation changes that are necessary, researching music or songs that are included in the piece, talking to the Deputy Stage Manager about changes that have crept in, or decisions that need to be made about indicating sound effects appropriately, and probably another five hours or so on the final format. A musical might be very straightforward, but a piece of new writing or devised theatre is likely to change and can take a good 40 hours of your time.
Alex: I think Roz answered this one pretty comprehensively!
To learn more about the role of a theatre captioner, watch our short, subtitled film: A Play in the Life of a Captioner.