12 FEBRUARY 2013
Feature: Theatre Captioning

Did you know that a number of our shows are captioned for people who are hearing impaired? Daniel Coghlan speaks to Co-Founder and Director of The Captioning Studio, Nari Jennings, about her company and what goes on behind the scenes.

It wasn’t until she saw a production of La bohème at the age of 16 that Nari Jennings became a fan of live performance.

‘It’s certainly an experience that will always remain with me. I’d never heard music or singing like that before in my life,’ recounts Nari.

However, this viewing of Puccini’s ever-popular opera spurred more than a love of the performing arts for Nari, it also prompted her to discover ways in which her family, with its history of genetic Deafness, could share the experience.

‘I knew then and there that I had to find a way that the experience of live performance, and all of the emotion that goes with it, could be shared with my family, many of whom were Deaf, and others with hearing loss.’

From a young age Nari was passionate about making life more accessible for people who were Deaf or hard of hearing. With the advancement of technology Nari’s passion was able to become her life’s work when, together with her partner, she established The Captioning Studio.

While The Captioning Studio mainly work on text-based performances (including plays, musicals and opera), they have extended their work to live one-person shows, and beyond the realm of the arts into education and workplace settings. Their work earned them the Australian Human Rights Award for Business in 2011 and a 2012 National Disability Award for Excellence in Improving Social Participation.

‘With our live captioning, the English text can be displayed on large screens or people can access our captions on their laptops, mobiles or tablet devices, with the text appearing on screen, accurately, approximately two seconds or less after the spoken word,’ says Nari.

Since launching their GoTheatrical!™ theatre captioning in 2004 they have extended their practices as technology has evolved. Now they are ready to release a world-first mobile app for audio description, following on from their captioning app released in 2010.

The process of creating captions can take up to two weeks of full-time work, utilising various resources to ensure the captions are accurate and inclusive of the various elements that make up a performance – including sound effects, music and even particular tones of voice. The finished captions can then be transmitted live to the venue with a simple internet connection. Nari believes that this type of technology will become more important in the future.

‘Currently, 1 in 6 Australians has some form of hearing loss, and that statistic is predicted to rise to 1 in 4 by 2050,’ she says.

With many of the major venues and production companies now offering theatre captioning, Nari predicts demand for the service will grow and eventually become a regular Access provision offered to theatre goers.

‘It’s incredible to look back now and think: wow, that dream I had as a young woman has been achieved, and that the technology we have developed is now being used in major venues such as the Sydney Opera House and Arts Centre Melbourne.’

Here at MTC, we are pleased to be able to offer captioning for most of our productions. Our next captioned performances are the Saturday 16 February, 4pm performance of The Other Place at Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse, and the Saturday 16 March, 4pm performance of Constellations at Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio.

For more information about the range of Access services available at MTC, visit the Access page of our website or download a copy of out Access Brochure.

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