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The phone box used to audio describe Road

Ben Wilson, Audio Description director on Road

Audio Description is the art of describing the visual element of a piece of theatre, film, television or any other visual medium for the benefit of blind and visually impaired audience members. Visually impaired audience members can use a headset or headphones in the theatre auditorium, and through that device they will be able to hear the voice of someone filling in the visual gaps that they might be missing. In theatre that is normally done live by someone sat in the gallery or in a sound proof booth somewhere out of sight, and will tend to be offered on one or two performances during the run. In this production of Road however, we’ve decided to do things different.

As a visually impaired theatre goer and maker Audio Description is a lifesaver for me. When I lost my sight and became registered blind I worried that might mean the end of my life in theatre – but I was wrong. And, that is no small part to having easy access to theatres providing regular audio described performances. There are countless audio describers around the country who do a great job, but it’s often the case that we don’t give them the tools or the support they need to help them thrive. Without being treated as an artistic tool, Audio Description can often be boring and awkward.

The next great leap forward in making theatre accessible to disabled audiences will come with embracing the creative possibilities of Audio Description, BSL (British Sign language), Captions and Relaxed Performances. Far too often these tools are not given the artistic thought that they need; instead they are bolted on as an afterthought without the creative team’s input.

Throughout the rehearsal process for Road, our director, creative team and cast thought of Audio Description as a vital part of the show. As a result, the production has become much more accessible and engaging for a visually impaired audience member.

On the set of Road there is a phone box. Throughout the show there will always be a member of the cast in that box talking into the phone. Those wearing Audio Description headsets can hear what the cast member is saying into the phone. Vicky Ackroyd and I have acted as the Audio Description Directors and have worked closely with director Amy Leach and the cast so audiences accessing it have just as an engaging and satisfying experience as those who don’t need it. This production gives equal importance to the experience of both visually impaired and sighted audiences, and that is a joyous feeling.

Not only does this mean that Audio Description is available on every performance, which is itself a rarity, but it ensures the Audio Description is not a disembodied voice with no connection to the world of the play. Instead the description is artistically integrated using language and a style that fits with and complements the action on stage. I believe Audio Description is a vital and significant cog, and not a charitable afterthought.

The process of working on project has been inspiring and exciting. It’s encouraging to see a wonderful director and a talented cast get excited about Audio Description, and how they can use it as one of the tools in their arsenal.

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Download BrochureAutumn / Winter 22
Download BrochureAutumn / Winter 22
Major funders
Arts Council England Leeds City Council The Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation
Principal Capital and Families Partner
Caddick Developments
Principal Capital and Access Partner
Irwin Mitchell Solicitors