Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
My name is Jenny Stewart-Cosgrove and I am a freelance audio describer for theatre.
What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?
Audio description is a service that makes theatre accessible for people who are blind or have a visual impairment. If I am working on a show my day involves writing a script using a video of the show I am working on. The script I write describes all of the visual aspects of the show and is then delivered live. If I am describing a show live I arrive at the theatre about one and a half hours before curtain up and get myself ready. This involves checking all of the technical requirements for the description like making sure the mic is working and that I can be heard through the headsets which my audience will use to listen to me. Then I will head on to stage and chat with the stage manager and cast before running a touch tour for my audience. A touch Tour introduces the audience to the world of the play by letting them examine the set, props and talk to the actors. I then take my place in the description spot which might be at the back of the theatre or sometimes backstage and I will deliver the description live.
What’s great about your job?
I am very lucky to have seen and worked on some incredible shows in London’s West End and all around the country. The best thing about my job is the feedback I get from my audience which lets me know I am making a real difference to their live theatre experience.
What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?
There can be a lot of travelling and I find it challenging being away from my family.
How has it been affected by Covid-19? Has it been business as usual, or have you had to adapt how you work?
As we all know theatre has been very badly affected by Covid-19 so I am unable to work in a live environment at the moment. Audio describers across the country are working together to find ways to deliver online and make streamed performances accessible, and I am working with them on that – no work yet though!
What are the highlights of your career to date?
Writing and delivering the audio description for the West end Production of Hamilton has been a highlight – it was a huge challenge to match the energy and pace of the show and the feedback was incredible.
What was the path into your current job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
I trained to be an actor back in my twenties and saw an advert for training in audio description on the National Theatre Staff notice board while I was there. I thought it would be something good to “fall back on” but it then became a real passion for me as I have always loved to write and this gives me a chance to use those skills. I found that my degree in Drama really helped with context and understanding of plays and production.
Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge was a health problem that stopped me working for almost five years. When I returned it was scary to be back and to try and build confidence in my skills again. It was funny really because as soon as I sat down in front of the mic and started describing, it was like I had never been away. So self-belief is really important.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?
I think access has become much more important than it was when I started but there is still a long way to go. It is something that is now factored in by many theatre and production companies, but there is still a lack of understanding about what it is we actually do as audio describers and we are still not really around the decision making table – the current situation really plays that out. Theatre is in trouble with Covid-19 but it will take all of us working together if we are going to survive.
What is something you wish you’d been told when you started your career?
I wish I had been told that being freelance is hard but it’s ok to say no to things!
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to a 16-year-old you. What do you say?
The best piece of advice I ever had from someone was, “find out what you love to do and then find out how you can make a living at it.” Don’t let money be your driving force because whatever you do for work you will be doing it for a long time, so make sure you enjoy it!
Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?
If you think this would be your thing then go for it!! We need young audio describers from a wider range of backgrounds. Practise your writing skills whenever you get a chance, take part in any live performance you can in any way you can – do all the jobs and you will get a really good understanding of how theatre works which is invaluable.