Now Read This! Now Read This!
Broadway will make history Sept. 24 when Barrymore, the solo biography starring Christopher Plummer, will be the first show in history to offer an open-captioned performance for hearing impaired patrons. Then, on Oct. 16 and 19, Jekyll & Hyde will follow suit, becoming the first Broadway musical to offer this technology, which has been common to opera houses and other theatre venues around the world.
According to Theatre Development Fund (TDF), whose Theatre Access Project (TAP) is sponsoring the events, a small digital screen on the side of the front of the orchestra will project the dialogue in red letters. Though the script is entered into the computer ahead of time, developer and operator Don DePew will scroll the phrases manually so they stay in synch with the action.
Lisa Carling, director of Theatre Access Project, told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 19), "The system is portable. It goes in before the set-up of the show and gets taken out when it's finished."
Asked why it took so long for Broadway to accept the idea, Carling said, "Well, maybe because it's easy to understand that captioning is needed for operas, where translation is necessary. But less is known about people with profound hearing loss who can't use infra-red systems to get much from a performance. Or for people who have become deaf later in life and haven't learned sign language. And you can't lip-read from the balcony. All we want is a chance to show people how it works and give it a try." "I am hearing on a daily basis," said Carling, "how grateful people are that this is being introduced. How much they want it to continue. A deaf woman called me from a voice relay just this morning and thanked us. She said, `Because of hearing loss, my husband don't do anything except go to restaurants and gain weight! This is wonderful!'"
As for hearing viewers confronted by captioning at a performance, Carling said, "I think it'll be a curiosity to hearing viewers, but not a distraction. In the case of an actor who ad libs or doesn't stick to the script, you can detect deviations, but that certainly is not frequent."
Established in 1979, TAP has distributed nearly 19,000 theatre tickets to signed performances. (1980's The Elephant Man was the first show to use this now-common process). The captioned performances of Jekyll & Hyde will also be sign-interpreted.
TDF, now in its 30th year, runs the mid-town and downtown TKTS discount tickets booth and has distributed over 48 million discount tickets to theatregoers since 1968.
--By David Lefkowitz