I have only been to the theatre three times in my life. The first time was Les Miserables – a production in the Adelaide Festival Centre. At the time I had only a small amount of hearing so told management I needed to be within the hearing loop. Either they got my seat wrong or my hearing aid tswitch no longer worked because sitting where I did (about 3 seats from the front in the middle) I heard very little from the stage. Of course it was an interesting experience, lots of showmanship, great sets and costumes, but to this day I still don’t know anything about the story.
The second time was in London. My husband wanted to see The Mousetrap. I’d never even heard of it and even though by now I had a Cochlear Implant and could hear again I know the restrictions technology still has and I doubted if I could understand anything from the stage. Once again I told management I needed a hearing loop and this time they brought me a personal system – a box which I hung around my neck into which I plugged my processor audio cord with the other end into my processor. This time I could hear and understand everything from the stage. It was a genuine and extremely pleasant surprise and I enjoyed the experience immensely. Just to make sure, I tested listening without the hearing loop through my processor alone and I couldn’t even hear the people speaking. So this personal system was fabulous.
And the third time was last week when I had the opportunity to attend a captioned theatre session at The Bakehouse Theatre in Adelaide. The theatre is small and doesn’t have a hearing loop so I knew the limitations of my speech processor would mean it unlikely to pick up all the speech from the stage. However, The Captioning Studio captioned the session live. The screen was high above the stage so my husband and I got seats up the top in the back row. This allowed us to view the captions without moving our head and we could look down on the actors on the stage with just a small movement of our eyes.
The production was ‘Misery’ – an adaptation from a Stephen King novel – something I had never read nor had I seen the movie version. But I attended knowing that with the captions, if I couldn’t hear the speech clearly, then I would have the captions as back up.
The captions were pre-programmed but the captioner was able to make on-the-spot changes if the actors changed their words. All captions were well timed, just as or slightly after the actors said their lines making the captions seem seamless with the production. Being able to view the words meant I ‘heard’ everything as it was spoken. Only once or twice did I notice a slight change in the words on screen to the words spoken. Once again I tested if I could understand the actors without watching the captions and while I got most of it, in segments where the actors screeched (it was a horror story after all) or spoke very quickly the captions provided the additional input necessary so I could completely follow the story. My husband, who has excellent hearing, also said there were times where it was good to have the captions so he could understand completely.
At last theatre is becoming accessible to people with a hearing impairment. The whole experience was excellent, so much so, that I will look for more captioned theatre opportunities. Make sure you check productions in your area to see if any captioned sessions are available. It is well worth it.