Michelle Hedley first discovered captioning two years ago and has since become a devoted fan. She describes the impact of captions and how trips to the theatre are now a truly enjoyable experience.

Michelle’s story

“I am deaf (from birth) with a severe hearing loss – I communicate via speech and lipreading. I have been going to musicals in both the West End and the regional theatres since I was very young despite my hearing loss. My hearing parents always encouraged me from a young age to go to musicals and we would always ensure I sat in the front three rows of the stalls so I could lipread the actors.

As I got older, to make it easier to follows things, I would try to ensure that I knew the relevant songs for each musical and the storyline. Despite this I was very much aware that I missed parts of the spoken dialogue, but never felt I missed enough to stop me going.

First experience of captioning

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.

STAGETEXT is a charity that assists theatres to provide access to a small number of their performances via captions. Those captions are displayed on a screen – usually found on or near the set.

I booked up to see the next show available to me with captions in January 2011. I was a bit dubious at first about this as my seat wasn’t in the stalls close up 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. At the end of Footloose I had a sudden revelation that I had, for the first time in my life, 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.

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 lipread and communicate, I needed assistance to fully access the theatre.

Invaluable service

STAGETEXT is 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 be equal to all other theatregoers which is a fantastic feeling.

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!

Michelle is a Geordie originally from Tyneside, now living just inside the border of Northumberland. She loves discovering music and also has a love of the theatre, especially musicals. She’s a fan of science fiction, watches anything on TV that is subtitled, and is now reliving her childhood renting DVDs! She is also a geocacher and is on Twitter as @Shelle02

First published on The Limping Chicken where you can also find comments on Michelle’s story.

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