Audio Description Services
Do you want your event to be enjoyed by people who are blind or partially sighted?
Yes, but how do I do that?
You can provide help ahead of the show by sending customers a large-print document or audio file describing what it will look like, and you can provide audio description throughout the event itself.
Can you explain a bit about what Audio Description is?
Audio Description is where you describe the visual action to a partially-sighted or blind customer so they can understand and follow what is happening. It is delivered via a headset and the describer prepares a script and watches the show, delivering their information in between dialogue, carefully timed not to detract or distract from the show.
What should I choose then?
Here are the three main services that I offer. The Visual Introduction document is the easiest and can even be created by you. The Audio Introduction requires some recording, editing and mixing. And the Audio Description requires a couple of days of preparation minimum. So it will depend on your budget.
1. Visual Introduction
This is a document describing how it all looks so a customer can build up a visual picture before coming along. It is a large-print Word document that works best with screen-readers.
2. Audio Introduction
This is an audio file which has the same detailed description as above but includes clips of the music, maybe an interview with the director or writer, and the cast describing themselves in character so the user can start to get familiar with their voices and accents. You can put this on your website, or I can host it for you and send you the link to email to customers.
3. Live Audio Description
This is delivered live throughout the event so the listener can enjoy the show at the same time as their sighted companion. It is also usually preceded by a touch tour where customers are invited onto the stage around an hour before the show, to get the dimensions of the set, feel the props and costumes and hear from the stage management team and some of the actors in costume.
Great. So if I go for one of these, what do you need?
To write a Visual Introduction I need to:
- Come along to watch a rehearsal(s) and preferably have access to a video of a rehearsal
- Have contact with the creative team to check how to describe certain elements
- Liaise with whoever is looking after the performers to get them to describe themselves
- Check with the creative team on whether there are any loud noises (gunshots etc) to warn people about
- Find out basic useful information about the venue – where is the box office / bar / toilets etc.
To create an Audio Introduction, I need to;
- Do all of the above to prepare the Audio Introduction script (a brief synopsis, descriptions of the sets, any warnings and useful info about the venue)
- Record the script
- Mix that recording with the audio from the performers self-describing, music from the show for intro and outro, and any other audio you would like to add in eg. interviews with the director, writer, or actors.
To prepare live audio description, I would need all of the above, plus;
- Access to an electronic version of the script, or a score (for musicals or opera) two weeks in advance of dry-run
- A copy of the programme
- Access to a performance for a dry-run – this would take place on one of the first performances where another audio describer will listen in and give feedback (so it’s best to programme your audio described performance late in the run)
- Access to a space to sit in where I can deliver the live description into a microphone with a good view of the stage, or a monitor, and preferably behind glass so I cannot be heard by the audience
Sounds great! So what do I need to do?
The most important thing is to plan it a long time in advance so you have plenty of time to tell your potential blind and partially-sighted audience about it.
For it to be really top quality, the things I need are;
- A script or score well in advance (two weeks minimum)
- Access to rehearsals
- A video of the dress rehearsal ready at least one full day before the dry-run
- Access to the creative team to review and answer any questions
- A good quality audio description system (most larger theatres and venues have built in systems)
- And stage management to assist with the touch tour before the show
However, if you are performing something in a field and there’s only a basic script and no video of the dress rehearsal, I can probably still help – I like to be flexible!
But what if the place we’re performing doesn’t have the equipment?
Don’t worry. I have a mobile Audio Description system that you can hire for a small extra fee. The transmitter can be setup in a control room and the receivers work up to 200m away (it has worked at the Royal Festival Hall in London which is a 2.5k seater venue). I also have a walkabout version if your event is promenade – I can walk around near the audience talking very quietly into the microphone.
It works over radio waves so is not dependent on WiFi. The transmitters look like this and I can provide in-ear headphones, or people can use their own – they must have a mini-jack (like standard older headphones).
I still can’t imagine how it works – do you have an example?
Have a look at Opera North’s audio described film of Bernstein’s one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti. There is a very short introduction first from describer Lynn Thornton, and then you’ll hear the audio description popping in throughout the film, but never clashing with the singing or dialogue.
And how important is it for blind and partially-sighted theatre-lovers?
Read this great article by Jo Woods, Chair of VocalEyes on how she felt on attending her first audio-described performance, and see for yourself:
Seeing yourself for the first time: the power of people in audio-described theatre
And here are some quotes from people who have attended Opera North audio described performances in the last few years:
Thank you and your colleagues for making this event so wonderfully accessible and enjoyable to me. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it! It had been a difficult week for me and I was feeling miserable – but coming to this performance gave me a real uplift. Please pass my thanks on to all your colleagues and the wonderful audio-describers.
A customer who attended Orpheus, October 2022
Hi there, I just wanted to let you know how good the audio description was last night. The explanation of what was being sung, along with everything else was really really good and just right in my opinion.
A customer who attended Carmen, 2021
We couldn’t have had a better introduction to audio description, thank you. It was great to hear from everyone and lovely to meet the audio describers before we began to listen to them. It was also fantastic to both be given a headset, so that I could experience the performance in a similar way to her and so that we could discuss what we’d heard afterwards. Allowing [my daughter] to use her own headphones was also key to her accessing the technology in a way that she felt comfortable with as a teenager.
A mother and daughter who attended West Side Story Symphonic Dances with Phoenix Dance, 2021
Well I’m sold. But how much will it cost?
I offer this standard rate guide for average sized theatres, but as productions can vary so much, do get in touch and we can have a chat. The live audio description fee depends on the length and complexity of the piece – £350 would be for a one act play, £550 for a long Wagner opera.
- Large print Visual Introduction: £100 – 150
- Audio Introduction (includes Visual Introduction version as well): £200 – 300
- Live audio description on one show (includes both of the above and touch tour): £350 – 550
- Live audio description on a repeat performance(s): £150 – 180
- Equipment hire: £50 per performance
Pre-recorded audio description
I can prepare and then record the audio description to be transmitted on the night. This can work well for a particularly quiet piece where there isn’t the space to describe from a control room or set up a monitor outside. It also means you could offer audio description on several performances and have a member of your team trigger it live using a pre-prepared score or script.
Using WiFi and people’s phones to receive the description
If the space you are using has good WiFi, another way to transmit the audio description is via a live feed to people’s phones. The audio is delivered from the mic into a laptop which would broadcast it to people’s phones over WiFi using Podbean or similar.
Using a different voice
If you would like to offer audio description but would like the sound of a different voice (perhaps one of the actors in the piece), I am happy to help prepare the script, advise them on how to deliver it live, listen in on the dry-run, help manage the touch tour, and manage the pre-show Audio Introduction recording etc. – you can choose the level of help required.
Recording audio description for films
I can add audio description to a finished film. I use Yella Umbrella software for this. I would need access to the actual film and then would send you back an audio track on which the audio description was added and mixed in.
Contact me on [email protected], or call 07974 630077.
I look forward to working with you.