Sound Associates, Inc., the company that makes available the Infrared Listening System in legitimate theatres not only on Broadway but around the nation, has come up with ShowTrans, a tiny device that clips over one ear, to give non-English-speaking theatregoers an approximate translation of the show in progress.
A League of American Theatres and Producers audience survey of Broadway shows for November and December, 1996, indicates that overall foreign audiences average 13 percent. Surveys by such musicals as Cats, Grease! and Beauty and the Beast show that that 22-57 percent of audiences during the 1995-96 theatre season were non-English speaking.
Beauty and the Beast at the Palace Theatre was the first Broadway musical to use ShowTrans. The King and I at the Neil Simon Theatre followed. ShowTrans, designed by T. Richard Fitzgerald, can send Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Italian translations.
The system is being added at Les Miserables at Broadway's Imperial Theatre the week of July 14. Then, on or about July 28, at The Phantom Of the Opera at the Majestic. In August, ShowTrans will add Miss Saigon at the Broadway Theatre.
Other Broadway shows in discussions to use the system are Titanic, Chicago and Rent. Unlike the Infrared Listening headsets, available free at all Broadway houses on deposit of a driver's license, there's a $10 rental charge for the ShowTrans devices available at specially-marked consoles in lobbies, lounges or at the rear of theatres.
Anne Tramon, a ShowTrans director, said that the translations, done by native professional linguists, are not a word-for-world translation but a scene-by-scene commentary that gives plot information. She explained that not all shows offer all languages.
Tramon said that, like the Infrared Listening system, ShowTrans is transmitted by infrared light. It's integrated into the show's cueing system so that the commentary keeps pace with the stage action.
As executive director of Shamrock Audio Consultants, Inc., Fitzgerald designed the sound systems for more than a hundred musicals and plays. With Tramon, and ShowTrans president Susan Lee, he is a founder of the National Institute for Special Need Audiences, a non-profit organization that funds the development of communications equipment for such special need theatregoers as the deaf, blind, and learning impaired.
For reservations at a participating show or additional information, call (212) 397-2700 or, outside New York, toll-free to (888) 876-0800.