In New York, technology helps deaf and blind experience Broadway theater

WNYC-FM [New York Public Radio], 5/30/11

The Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts is spending $240,000 to outfit four Broadway theaters with two pieces of technology called I-Caption and D-Scriptive that will expand theater-going options for the deaf and the blind. Funding came from a grant from New York City and from the NYC Theater Sub-district Council.  I-Caption is a hand-held device that displays text real-time as the actors are speaking and singing. D-Scriptive [gives] blind and low-vision theater-goers audio descriptions of what's happening onstage. Both devices will be automatically synchronized to the theater's master cueing system.  The Alliance brought in blind actor and artistic director Christopher G. Roberts to help craft descriptions.  "It's incredibly challenging," said Roberts. "There are some people who are blind and have no conception [of] what color is. Describing a red or yellow costume is almost pointless. So, I would advise them to add adjectives like 'vibrant green,' or 'exciting yellow' or 'spectacular red,' so you give the color a texture they can understand."  I-Caption and D-Scriptive were developed by Sound Associates [and] are already in place at five [other Broadway] theaters, including where Wicked and Billy Elliot are playing. Producers for those shows paid about $40,000 to design and install [the devices]. The high cost has made Broadway shows hesitant to invest in the services, meaning the options for the deaf and the blind on Broadway are few.  [T]he disabled are a huge demographic," said Carl Anthony at Sound Associates. "'s about serving an audience that would otherwise not be able to see your show. The great thing here is with the funding... we don't have to wait for [a show] to be a hit, we can set it up immediately and disabled people can see the show no matter what."


In Chicago, a free service offers audio descriptions for blind theatergoers

WBEZ-FM [Chicago Public Radio]. 5/27/11

Theaters talk about accessibility all the time. Sometimes it means affordability; sometimes it means clarity; and sometimes it means removing physical obstacles: providing ramps for wheelchair access and signed performances for people with hearing impairments.  Rarely, though, does a theater talk about providing access to people who are blind.  It may seem an overwhelming task to describe what the set looks like, what the actors look like, how the movements ebb and flow. But it is possible -- in fact, Victory Gardens, Steppenwolf and Broadway in Chicago all provide audio description--and now a pair of Chicago actors has created a service that will offer audio description of a single performance at any Chicago theater for free -- if they can raise $35,000 by mid-July.  To accomplish this, DiAnne B. Shaw and Victor J. Cole have established a Kickstarter account.  Shaw explains, "Victor has been doing audio description for ten years at Victory Gardens, which is really at the forefront of this total access movement.  This really is the last stage -- everyone understands that you need wheelchair access, everyone uses signers, but very few places do this.... Every theater [should] already have this as a part of what it's doing.  [Audio description is] about $100 a show, so it's not cost-prohibitive. And for this season it'll cost nothing."


U.S. movie chain to equip its theaters for deaf, blind guests

Associated Press, 5/4/11

Movie theater chain Regal Entertainment Group will equip its digital theaters with technology that helps deaf, hard of hearing and blind guests enjoy going to the movies.  The technology will provide captions for those hard of hearing and descriptive narration for the blind.  Regal said it plans to roll out the system over the next 12 to 18 months. It expects every one of its 535 theater locations in the U.S. to have digital equipment and be able to offer the technologies for every show time by the end of 2012.  It is teaming up with Captionfish, a unit of Zero Gravity Captions LLC, which is an online search engine for finding captioned movies across the country.


In China, a blind acting company is featured in French theater festival

The Global Times, 5/18/11

As part of the fourth French Theater Festival, [the] play La Princesse Maleine, performed by a blind troupe, will take the stage in Beijing.  Written by Nobel Prize-winner Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), the work tells the romantic story of Princess Maleine's search for her beloved prince after defeat in war, and her encounters along the way. "It is a tragicomedy about life, about wandering, misunderstanding, unconfirmed appointment and all kinds of unfairness, unseen or seen... We have a deep emotional resonance with our blind performers," said French director Jean-Christophe Blondel, who met his performers after they had worked with well-known Chinese drama director Lin Zhaohua in Les Aveugles (The Blind) in 2008. Last year, the actors launched their own troupe, Xinmu Drama Studio, to help blind theater fans find their own stage.  "We can feel their love towards movement and also their worry about space. They have to imagine, and present the image by imagination, a real connection between fantasy and artistic creation," said Malgven Gerbes, a German choreographer.  The play will also be performed in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province on June 2-3, and in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province on June 6 and 8.


In Israel, the world's only deaf and blind theater troupe

European Jewish Post, 5/3/11

Though they cannot hear or speak, the Israeli actors in Nalaga'at stage full-length, professional performances -- the only shows like this in the world.  These actors can't see or hear. Nevertheless, their unique theatrical presentation captivates audiences by blending touch, mime, sign language and music in a show about dreams and disability.  "It's everything good theater actually is and should be and so seldom is nowadays," says Adina Tal, director of Nalaga'at Center, an Israeli troupe made up of 11 deaf and blind actors from Tel Aviv-Jaffa. In Hebrew, na lagaat means "please touch."  The only deaf and blind theater troupe in the world, Nalaga'at has also performed in North America and Europe. There are two full-length shows in the repertoire. The actors learn their parts slowly, each paired with a translator who signs instructions into the palms of their hands.  [You can watch a short video about the troupe here.]

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