Live theater captioning comes to Kansas City!

I grew up in my own little world of musicals. My alone time was often spent lip-syncing to “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from The Sound of Music, or sashaying around my house mouthing the lyrics to “If I were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof. If I was lucky and no one else was home, I would belt out my favorite solos in my own not-just-tone-deaf-but-deaf-and-unable-to-carry-a-single-tune voice. Even now, if I spend a weekend catching up on the last season of Glee, I’m prone to spend the rest of the week singing to myself and passé-ing – not walking – around my house.

What I’m trying to say is – I love Broadway musicals. I love song-and-dance numbers. I love the emotion, the choreography, the soul, the solos – all of it. But my own experience with live theater is relatively lacking. Growing up, watching a live stage production was just too much work for me. Sign language interpreters helped clue me in to the dialogue going on onstage, but watching the interpreter meant missing the stage action. Opting to watch the actors instead of the interpreters meant I missed out on important lines. I preferred to stick to videos and later, DVDs, so I could enjoy the story with captions and subtitles.

Then last summer, something wonderful happened. At the 2011 HLAA National Convention in Washington, D.C., HLAA arranged for convention goers to attend a captioned live performance of the musical Wicked. I was a little skeptical – accustomed to sign language interpreters, I could not wrap my head around using captions to understand something that was going on live in front of me. I am so glad HLAA introduced me to live theater captioning – thanks to their efforts and the cooperation of the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center, I was able to fully enjoy a live theater performance for the first time! I watched the captions in conjunction with the stage performers, much like I use CaptiView to watch a movie. It took a bit getting used to moving my eyes from the captions to the stage, but since I am used to captions on the TV, it was much easier transition for me than I thought it would be. I left the convention with one goal in mind: Bring live theater captioning to Kansas City.

Earlier this year, I found out that Les Miserables, one of my favorite musicals, would be coming to Kansas City and immediately started asking questions. Could it be captioned? Who would caption it?  How do I contact the theater? The production company? After a few months of dead ends and wild goose chases, I happened to see a billboard advertising Les Miz being brought to Kansas City by the Theater League. I sent the Theater League and email and discovered they already had a captioning device available. Mark Edelman, Executive Director of the Theater League, graciously invited members of our HLAAKC Steering Committee to check it out.

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Mr. Edelman and his team, recognizing the need for captions of live performances and understanding that not all deaf or hard of hearing patrons are able to understand American Sign Language, developed the device to assist their guests. “We wanted to come up with an audio description system that could be utilized at any performance and did not require familiarity with ASL,” he said.

The Theater League currently has two Mobile Demands that use PowerPoint to display captions for the theater patron. A transmitter set up in the theater controls the flow of the captions so that all the patron has to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

“We ask the producers of each Broadway show we present to send us a copy of the script in some sort of digital form (usually MS Word). We pay to have that format re-written in PowerPoint,” Edelman explained. “I go through the PowerPoint and make changes consistent with the flow of the show. The PowerPoint is transferred to the Audio Description System’s dedicated lap-top. We hook up the transmitter in the theater, hand out the receivers, explain the process and we’re ready to go.”

The Mobile Demand can be placed on a music stand for hands-free viewing during the show, or be held in the patron’s lap. Using the music stand requires specific, accessible seating; holding the device enables the patron more freedom to sit where they like. Once you are at the performance, Edelman explains, the “Presentation Manager will come to your seat, give you the device, explain its operation and turn it on for you.”

All of Theater League’s shows are available with captions, with the exception of shows that have no spoken dialogue or lyrics (such as Tap Dogs, Stomp or Blue Man Group). Click here for a complete list of upcoming Theater League shows in Kansas City.

If you would like to see a show from the Theater League, using the captioning device, simply contact the Theater League with the name of the show and the date(s) you are available to attend. With only two captioning devices available, it’s possible that you may need to choose alternate dates if the devices are in use somewhere else or otherwise spoken for. Catherine Cone, the Director of Ticketing for the Theater League, will help you purchase the appropriate seat for your needs.

Catherine Cone
Director of Ticketing
Theater League
9140 Ward Parkway, Suite 220
Kansas City, MO 64114
816-559-3863 (direct phone)
816-421-4979 (fax)
catherine.cone@theaterleague.org

The Theater League also offers audio description for visually-impaired guests. For more information about the Theater League, please visit their website or email Mark Edelman at tlmedelman@gmail.com.

Thank you, Theater League, for helping make the arts more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community in Kansas City!

Do you know of other captioned live events? Let us know in the comments or send us an email at hlaakc@gmail.com.

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