Three years, 1,500 miles and Captions Speak Louder is a wrap

Three years, 1,500 miles and Captions Speak Louder is a wrap

Three years, 1,500 miles, over 300,000 people, ten venues and one archive. This is how we’ve marked the historical significance of Stagetext and the evolution of open captioning in the UK.

Back in 2019, Ciara, our archivist, kicked off the Captions Speak Louder project, collating and cataloging information and items illustrating the significant achievement of twenty years of deaf access in theatres.

A photo of an article on the first captioned performance, 15th Nov 2000Despite the global events of 2020 and the restrictions of lockdown, Ciara continued working on the project, remotely interviewing key figures from across twenty years of Stagetext. Staff members, our founders and our captions users helped add their voices to the history and showing the true impact of the birth of theatre captions in the UK.

These records, items and interviews are now held in an archive which is available to see at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection. The catalogue is available on their website here.

The contents of the archive were used to create our travelling exhibition, helping us to share our story to more than 300, 000 people across the UK. In November 2021 the exhibition was packedA photo of flight cases and ready to set off for its first stop, The Barbican Theatre in London. The Barbican Theatre hosted our very first captioned performance in November 2000, The RSC’s Duchess of Malfi, so it was a very fitting venue to launch our tour.

We visited nine other venues, totaling 1500 miles of travel, reaching as far north as Edinburgh and as far south as Southampton. Thanks to all the wonderful host venues, the exhibition was very warmly received by the visitors and staff members who saw it. The front of house manager at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh told us, ‘I am passionate about access and loved having and exhibition dedicated to captioning’.

Melanie Sharpe, Stagetext’s Chief Executive, explains why this project was so important; ‘We believe that open captions create quality and seamless access, opening the door to theatre for deaf, deafened and hard or hearing audiences. It was important that we record and share their evolution with audiences across the UK, so we came up with the Captions Speak Louder project. One in five people in the UK are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing and lots of the UK’s population will know someone who could benefit from captions, so we knew it was something we should share. I am proud of the permanent archive and a touring exhibition we have created, especially given the restrictions of the pandemic. I am hugely grateful for the participation of the host venues and all our volunteers, thank you to everyone involved.’

Without the existence of theatre captions many deaf people would not be able to fully experience live theatre. So, at the heart of the project are the voices of the UK’s caption users who kindly shared their experiences, like this one from Hala Hashem, ‘I remember being excited when I first saw the captioning unit and the captioned play, oh, it was amazing. It was a really wonderful feeling’. It is these voices and the significance of theatre captions in UK theatre, that the Captions Speak Louder project was born from.

The current exhibition tour has finished but if you are interested in hosting, please contact us to find out more. The archive will remain at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection and will be a wonderful resource for academics and anyone who is interested in theatre or access.

Thanks to support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we have created the world’s first ever archive and exhibition on open captioning.

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