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AUDIO DESCRIBED BALLET A FIRST: Royal New Zealand Ballet presented its first audio described performances for blind and low vision patrons in Auckland with the ballet Romeo and Juliet, which toured New Zealand In September 2017. This was the first time a full ballet has been audio described in New Zealand. Nicola Owen and Neha Patel narrated Romeo and Juliet.  

Audio description and touch tours

Audio description is a narrated commentary for blind and vision impaired patrons that provides descriptions of the visual elements. In a theatrical performance, audio description narrates what’s happening on stage in between the dialogue or songs: for example, new scenes, settings, costume, body language, facial expression, movements across the stage and sight gags.

Audio describers

Audio describers sit in a soundproof room and talk into a microphone to provide the commentary. They need to have a clear view of the stage from the room or, alternatively, they need to be in a soundproof room with a television monitor showing the action onstage. If the audio describers have a stenomask (hand-held microphone built into a padded, sound-proof enclosure that fits over the speaker's mouth or nose and mouth), they won't need a soundproof room.

Their narration is transmitted to wireless receivers and headsets worn by the audience members. It does not impact on the experience for other audience members.

Putting blind people in the picture is what Auckland audio describer Nicola Owen does for a living. She talks to Arts Access Aotearoa about her company, Audio Described Aotearoa; touch tours and audio description of arts and cultural events; and the growing demand for audio description. 

Download:

PDF icon Q & A insight: Audio Described Aotearoa

WORD icon Q & A insight: Audio Described Aotearoa 

Touch tours

An audio described performance usually includes a touch tour before the performance. Here are some ideas:

  • For theatre, opera and musicals, patrons can explore the set and costumes, and possibly meet the director and cast to help them match the characters’ voices with their names. 
  • For performances incorporating dance or circus, patrons can gain an appreciation of the different props, moves or poses. 
  • For music performances, patrons can feel and hear the various instruments, and get a sense of how the performers are arranged on the stage. 

It’s usually the role of the audio describer to liaise with the stage manager to select the most important props and set pieces to be on stage, and to determine how the touch tour will be arranged (for example, where the patrons will stand, whether they will walk around or have items brought to them). 

Each patron will need a guide (no more than two patrons per guide) and the stage will fill up quickly. Plan the simplest possible route on to and off the stage, and have ushers or volunteers on hand to assist with guiding. 

A touch tour is always most effective when enthusiastic performers and crew engage with the patrons. And in fact, they usually enjoy the opportunity. Schedule the tour early enough so that your cast and crew can participate and still get away in time to prepare before curtain up.  

After you’ve engaged with the local blind community, here are some other key things to consider:

  • Book trained audio describers for the event. It’s good practice to use two audio describers for a performance and give them plenty of time to develop and rehearse their descriptions before the performance.
  • Make sure you have the equipment you need and a soundproof space for the audio describers to work in unless your audio describers use a stenomask .
  • Give blind and vision impaired patrons plenty of notice about the date of the audio described performance and cut-off date for booking their tickets. You will need to know the number of headsets to hire and how many guides required for the touch tour.
  • Provide information (e.g. the programme or catalogue) in accessible formats before the event.
  • Train your staff on how to assist blind and vision impaired patrons, and make sure everyone is well-informed about how people will access and get around your venue.

What is a touch tour?

A touch tour of live performance enables the patrons to explore the set and costumes, and possibly meet the director and cast to help them match the characters’ voices with their names. For performances incorporating dance or circus, patrons can gain an appreciation of the different props, moves or poses. And for music performances, patrons can feel and hear the various instruments, and get a sense of how the performers are arranged on the stage. 

Audio described museum or gallery tours might include opportunities to handle artefacts, or touch replicas to get a sense of the items being described. 

It’s usually the role of the audio describer to liaise with the stage manager to select the most important props and set pieces to be on stage, and to determine how the touch tour will be arranged (for example, where the patrons will stand, whether they will walk around or have items brought to them). Each patron will need a guide (no more than two patrons per guide) and the stage will fill up quickly. Plan the simplest possible route on to and off the stage, and have ushers or volunteers on hand to assist with guiding. 

A touch tour is always most effective when enthusiastic performers and crew engage with the patrons. And in fact, they usually enjoy the opportunity. Schedule the tour early enough so that your cast and crew can participate and still get away in time to prepare before curtain up.                                

Communications and accessible formats

Providing a range of communication channels – the media, social media, brochures, websites, emails – is important so you reach all your audiences.

Blind and vision impaired people use screen readers – software that “speaks” the text on a computer screen (e.g. documents, emails, websites and smartphone devices). This means that accessible websites and e-newsletters are great ways to communicate with them.

The Telephone Information Service run by the Blind Foundation is a cost-effective way of reaching this group, nationally or in a particular region.

Standard print material is of no use to blind and vision impaired people. However, large print may work for some vision impaired people.

Link: For more about communications and promotion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Claire Noble

CLAIRE NOBLE: Claire is Access and Participation Advisor, Arts Access Aotearoa (T: 04802 4349 E: claire.noble@artsaccess.org.nz). More about Claire

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