National Theatre, UK
Theatre captioning may be considered as one of the most important forms of cultural access for people with hearing loss and other audiences that cannot, or cannot properly, access plays in their original form (such as foreign viewers, the elderly, audiences with cognitive impairments, etc). However, despite the crucial role it plays in media accessibility, theatre captioning has received very limited scholarly attention. In 2016, the CaptionCue project, funded by the UK Arts Council, brought together the National Theatre, the charity and caption provider Stagetext, the technology company Screen and the University of Roehampton in order to assess the quality of automatic theatre captions and their reception (in terms of preferences, distribution of attention and immersion) by audiences with and without hearing loss on different caption devices (open LED screens and tablets). The results showed an overall positive experience of the audience using these automatic captions, with an efficient distribution of attention between the captions and the stage, and a high degree of immersion. LED screens, which caused the audience to spend 43% of their time on the captions vs 56% on the actors, obtained the best results, whereas tablets (52% on the captions vs 43% on the actors) were deemed satisfactory for specific types of slow-paced plays. However, and despite the good results obtained by the open LED screens, this format was also met with criticism from the audience (especially the hearing viewers) and the actors, some of whom found it distracting.
The aim of this project is to test the use of automatic theatre captioning displayed on smart glasses, a device that can potentially solve some of the issues encountered with the use of open LED screens, such as distribution of attention, head movement and distraction for both actors and members of the audience who do not wish to read the captions. A new prototype of Epson smart glasses is being used and tested by participants with and without hearing loss in three plays staged at the National Theatre over 12 months. Individual questionnaires and focus groups will be organized to assess the quality of the automatic captions, the experience of the users wearing the glasses (weight, focal length, dizziness, user interface), their immersion and their overall impressions (issues with aesthetics/self-consciousness, comparison to other types of captions). Once the results have been analysed, it will then be possible to ascertain if, as the access team of the National Theatre have pointed out, the smart glasses are the future of theatre captioning and can open the door to not only intralingual captions but also interlingual theatre captioning.
Presentation at ACT/Unlimited Conference (6 June 2018): https://drive.google.com/open?id=1IbcxenCQXw7wAe-G2VttutCdND2Yne-E