About Audio Description
What is audio description?
Audio description is a verbal commentary for blind and visually impaired theatre-goers. It aims to increases accessibility to the arts by providing a tailored description of what is happening visually on stage. The description is delivered between the dialogue, inserted into the natural breaks and pauses in singing or conversation. Audience members follow the description on personal headphones. Delivered simultaneously with the performance, the description does not interfere with the performance, but fills in the gaps, describing facial expressions and body language and guiding the listener through new scenes, costumes, and the relationship and positioning of the characters.
It also highlights the style of the production, providing information about lighting, locations and atmosphere, enabling blind and partially sighted people to share the experience with their friends and family.
With opera due regard and attention must be paid to the colour and phrasing of the orchestral score. Because of this the description is structured in and around the musical framework of the piece.
Audio description works to capture fully the visual aspects of a performance, and to enhance the theatre going experience for its users.
How does audio description work?
The describer sits in a soundproof booth in the theatre and offers a live commentary on what is happening on the stage. The describer will have watched the performance three or four times beforehand, will have compiled their own script, and will be well prepared to describe the performance. The description is relayed; via an infrared or radio sound system; to an easy to use, lightweight headset worn by the listener. The headset is obtained prior to the performance from the theatre staff. There is no charge for the headset, but a small refundable deposit may be required when the headset is collected.
Fifteen minutes before the performance begins, a live set of notes is relayed through the headset. They include details on costume, set and characters, and for performances not spoken or sung in English, there may also be a brief synopsis. This allows the listener to familiarise themselves with the headset controls, and also supplies additional, detailed background information about the production itself.
For most productions a touch tour is available. This normally takes place approximately one and a half hours before the audio described performance. The tour allows blind and visually impaired patrons to touch elements of the set, examine some of the props, and gain a spacial awareness of the acting and performance space.
It is always worth asking if places on the touch tour are available.