What is Theatre Audio Description?

Freelance Audio Describer Jenny Stewart-Cosgrove gives some top tips on how to make your theatre or performance more accessible for the blind and partially sighted.

What is Theatre Audio Description?

Audio Description in a theatre is a live verbal commentary providing information on the visual elements of a production as it unfolds. It describes action that is essential to an understanding of the play's story, as well as other visual information such as the style and design of a production, facial expressions and visual jokes that a blind or partially sighted member of the audience might otherwise miss. 

Want to introduce Audio Description as part of making your venue and production more accessible?

Why not take a look at these top tips from Jenny Stewart-Cosgrove Freelance Audio Describer.

  • Promote your desire to offer equal access

    • Be transparent about any difficulties that you face in providing equal access 

    • Encourage people to come with friends or create opportunities for meeting and talking to others 

    • Let blind and partially sighted people know about companion concessions

  • Going to the theatre needs to be seen as something enjoyable, not hard work 

    • Remember that not all blind or partially sighted audiences are the same – some may have been frequent theatre attenders and some may never have been 

    • Consider holding a specific event for local blind and partially sighted people to learn about what you offer and get to know your venue

  • Provide as consistent an experience as possible 

    • Think about the full experience - not just the show

    • Advertise your audio described performances to everyone 

    • Generate word of mouth by talking at events or to local groups, social clubs and blind societies 

    • Don’t assume that all visually impaired people are so desperate to go to the theatre that all you need to do is tell them that there’s an audio described performance and they’ll come

Small theatre companies may find that offering a through show audio description service for a production is not within their budget but there are still things you can do to support a blind or partially sighted audience.

How about producing some introductory notes?

Introductory notes on a production give descriptions of the set, the characters and their costumes. They can add context and visual understanding of the production. They provide an opportunity to explain how the visual elements of the production work and how they relate to each other to tell the story. If you can it is really beneficial to record the introductory notes and make them available to your audience before they come to see the show.

Could you include a Touch Tour before the show?

For many blind or partially sighted theatregoers, a touch tour is an essential part of the theatre experience. Having access to the stage and set before a performance is a way of firming up the descriptive information they may have already received and provides them with extra detail to allow them to engage with the production. Customers will explore the space, and may like to handle selected props, costumes and furniture. Touch tours usually last approximately 30 minutes. They need the involvement of the audio describers, front of house staff, technical staff, stage management and the company in order to work smoothly.

Would you like more information about professional audio description services or perhaps you would like to access training for your venue or theatre company?

Contact  [email protected] she would be happy to help or point you in the right direction.


You can also read an interview with did with Jenny by following this link

Header Image Credit: "IMG_1558" by isostandards is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

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