The art of captioning: What it is, how it's done and why it's so important

The art of captioning: What it is, how it's done and why it's so important

12 November 2015

by Rebecca Dew

This week, Stagetext is celebrating its 15th anniversary with the first ever Captioning Awareness Week. Young Reporter Rebecca Dew interviews TCTC Associate Producer Neale Birch ahead of the captioned performance of Brave New World.

Stagetext is celebrating its 15th anniversary from 9 - 15 November with their first ever Captioning Awareness Week, with the aim of bringing together cultural venues and caption users from all over to celebrate and raise awareness of captioning and subtitling in the arts industries. 

But what exactly is captioning? To find out more, I spoke to Neale Birch, Associate Producer of Touring Consortium Theatre Company, ahead of the captioned performance of Brave New World at the Darlington Civic, to provide an insight into the art, and what would be expected in the performance later that night.Neale Birch with the captioning equipment ahead of Brave New World at Darlingon Civic

Hi Neale, so how long have you been working on captioning for?
As a company, we have been providing captioning and other accessible performances since 2009, and we’re quite proud of that. 

So how did your company start captioning performances?
Back in 2008, the Arts Council started the ‘See-A-Voice’ initiative to encourage captioning and other access techniques in theatres. I argued that as a touring company, that I’d be doing nine captioning performances on every tour that we do, and that’s how we acquired our captioning equipment making us able to start putting on captioning performances. We now do 16-18 captioned performances a year, which is pretty impressive.

How is the captioning equipment used to put together captioning?
I use a laptop dedicated just for captioning – the first thing to do is to use the captioning software provided by Stagetext to edit an e-copy of the production’s script. I take out any stage directions but leave character names, and then format to strict formatting regulations to make sure that the captions fit onto the display screens and are appropriate for the audience. The formatting regulations include assigning a speed that is readable for the audience, a font size and positioning on the screen that can be easily seen and even the brightness of the text to make sure that it is appropriate for the audience’s needs.


Are there any challenges you face when putting the captioning together?
Timing is definitely the biggest challenge. Matching the captioning to the actor’s lines can be very difficult, especially in extreme circumstances of an actor forgetting a line or changing a word, but even then there are ways around that. What’s great, for me at least, is that the audience seem to blame the actors for any mistakes and not my captioning! (laughs)

Why is captioning performances so worthwhile for you and your company?
I think it’s worthwhile us doing it as there’s some people who can only come [to the theatre] because we’re captioning the show, and I think on top of that, lots of other people make use of captioning because it’s available. It gives them the opportunity to enjoy the production that they wouldn’t otherwise have, that’s what it’s all about – not just for us to sell more tickets, it’s about getting people to experience what we have to offer, to tell a story. I’m very passionate about theatre, and we need to get more people to experience it.


Do you believe that captioning then is encouraging people to the theatre?
I think theatre is a hugely important piece of our national culture and we need to get more people to experience it- some people think theatre is not for them and that’s so wrong, it’s for everybody. I hope that the awareness will get people in to use captioning and see the performances, and I believe this will encourage more theatres to provide captioning services and more people to come to the theatre.

How else have Touring Consortium Theatre Company been getting involved in Captioning Awareness Week?


So why is the art of captioning so important? 10 million people in the UK are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing - that’s 1 in 6 of us. Text-based access to the arts, including captioning and live subtitling, is the most far reaching form of access for people with varying degrees of hearing loss. There are many people who could benefit from the service, including foreign language speakers, but simply don’t know it exists…yet.

To help tackle this crucial issue, join us in helping spread the word about captioning throughout Captioning Awareness Week! You can do so by taking a selfie on your captioned theatre trip and tweet it to @Stagetext #CAPaware, take a picture of yourself with the words ‘I’M #CAPaware’ or 'I’m supporting Captioning Awareness Week’, Tweet about your favourite captioning experiences/Tweet your thoughts about the captions during the interval or even write a review of a recent captioned production and tweet or email it to Stagetext #CAPaware.

If you don’t use social media you can email your captioning experiences, photos and thoughts to [email protected] and they will tweet your message for you so your views are heard.

By raising awareness of captioning, more captioning services will be provided – something that will not only benefit the millions who could benefit from the services, but everyone interested in our arts and culture.

Brave New World premieres at Royal and Derngate, Northampton, where it runs from 4 to 26 September 2015. It then tours to Edinburgh, Blackpool, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Bradford where it concludes on 5 December.