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Audio Description in theatres

Watch this video to learn from audio describer Roz Chambers how Audio Description for theatres is created and delivered to audiences.
FutureLearn and Royal Holloway University presents Audio Description in Theatres.
Hello. My name is Roz Chalmers. I’m an Audio Describer and an Audio Description Trainer and I’ve been in the field for about 20 years. I’m a white woman in my 60s with white curly hair and wearing pink glasses. At the moment I’ve got on a dark green shirt and a green necklace with yellow flecks. The way audio description works in theatre is that there are three main components. There is an audio introduction, which people get before the show. There is a touch tour which happens just prior to the show. And then there is the through description, the audio description that the audience will hear during the show.
So the first thing in the audio introduction is we will give a description of the set, the characters, the costumes they’re wearing, and the props, perhaps, that they’re using. One of the things about the audio description of myself was that I didn’t mention the fact that I’m also overweight or plus size, if you want to be polite about it. But it’s something I’m happy to say about myself. It may not be something that I’d be happy for somebody else to say. So we have contact now with the company, with the actors, and we ask them how they would like to be described. And we take that into account when we are writing a description of the characters and the costumes.
I like to, and quite a lot of audio describers like to, walk the set before we see the show for the first time to become familiar with some of the colours, and the costumes and the props, so that we know that we’re describing them accurately. Once we’ve finished the audio introduction we send it to another editor, another audio describer who’s not familiar with it to make sure that it makes sense and that we haven’t missed anything out. The blind or partially blind audiences get hold of these audio introductions usually through an mp3, so it’ll be a recording so that everybody can listen to it.
But good practice is always to make it available as a Word document as well, so that people can either download it or they can listen to it on their screen readers. It’s never good practice to put it as a PDF because not everybody’s screen reader reads PDFs. So they’ll be able to do it at their leisure. They’ll be able to become familiar with the material in advance, and as many times as they want to. So after they’ve had the audio introduction they are ready for the show. But there’s another element of the show that they can attend if they want to. About an hour and a half, an hour before the show there’s a touch tour.
And that means that the audience can get on stage. They can explore the space. They can handle the props. They can handle the costumes. They can often talk to the actors. We do ask for actors to come down as well. And they will speak to the actors, get used to their voices. Maybe the actor will talk in character so they can get used to an accent. And it’s an opportunity for everything to kind of click into place. There may be some questions that they want answered after the audio introduction and the touch tour can often be very helpful for that. Everybody comes down to the touch tour from the company.
As well as the actors, we have other members of the production team. So we may have somebody from wardrobe who can talk about how they sourced the costumes. We may have somebody from wigs who can talk about that. We may have somebody from makeup. We had somebody, when we did Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch, we had somebody from the company who came down with scars for the creature and people were able to handle the scars. They actually felt like pieces of bacon. But it was a good opportunity to become really familiar with the makeup. We might have somebody from sound coming down to talk about particular sounds that mean something very special.
In The Trojan Women there was a sound when a large shutter was supposed to come down, so they played the sound for it so that people would understand what was happening at that particular point. We often have people from lighting coming down. There was a show I did called Constellations and basically the set was lights, and we were able to talk about the lights, the colours of the lights, and what they meant in terms of the show. So it’s an opportunity to really get to know the show inside out. And it’s interactive. People can get to know how this works and know how the theatre works, know how that show has been produced.
And it just makes a richer experience for everybody. Once they’ve finished with the touch tour people can then go into their seats. They will listen to the audio introduction again. The show will start. And they will have what we call through description, the audio description, which is there really to explain the parts of the show that are only there through visual aspects. So that could be somebody’s reaction. That might mean that a character is angry. Very rarely does a character turn around and say, “I’m angry with you.” They may walk away. They may turn their back. They may glower at somebody. They may exchange a glance with somebody else. And those things have no dialogue.
There’s nothing that’s oral to tell you about it. So that’s when the audio describer would get in and describe what a reaction might be. We might describe a fight. We would describe a dance scene. We would perhaps describe a change in scenery as you move from an inside space to an outside space. So there are very many places where we try to get that information in. But we have this sort of maxim as we describe what we can, not necessarily what we want to, because the script comes first. People get their information lots of different ways. They get it through the sound effects. They might get it through the actors’ delivery. They get it through the dialogue.
They get it through the music. We’re just another form of information for people. Royal Holloway University. Supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and VocalEyes.

Hear from Roz Chalmers as she explains how Audio Description for theatres is created and delivered to audiences.

Take note of the different element of theatre Audio Description as she explains them.

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