Ever wonder what it takes to make an great open caption Live Theater performance? The answer might surprise you.
This week, Hearing Loss LIVE! invited Vicki Turner of Turner Captioning and Reporting talk with us about how she got involved with live theater captioning. Chelle and Michele will also share their experiences with live captions, loop and FM systems, auto captions and talk about why the gold standard is live theater captioning.
Vicki and Julia will share how to advocate for your hometown theater or playhouse to have Live Theater Captions. Contact Vicki turner for questions or help with your live theater needs.
Want help advocating? Come to Hearing Loss LIVE! and we will advocate with you!
Hearing Loss LIVE! Talks with Vicki Turner about live theater captioning. Julia: Hello, welcome to Hearing Loss LIVE! Today we have a special guest, again. We have Vicki Turner with Turner Reporting and Captioning. And we're going to talk this week about live theater captioning. If you haven't been to a live theater performance with open captions, you're missing out, and you need to ask for it. Because it is so awesome. I would like Chelle Wyatt first to talk about her experiences with live captioning. And I want Michele to talk about her experiences with live captioning. And then I'm going to turn it over to Vicki who I want her to talk about some ideas on how she got into this and what it takes to have a live caption theater performance. Because she worked so hard and she's traveled so extensively doing this. We just, we're in awe of her whenever [laughing] we visit. Chelle, can you start us off give us some thoughts on your, your experience with live captions at a theater.
Chelle: Yes, I started out at the Eccles Theatre with Vicki captioning. That was my first experience with it. And I am not so big on musicals, but I went for a while because it's just so wonderful to have the captions. And then the musical that I did, like, I could finally understand the lyrics and the dialogue in between. Before that, there's no way I could have understood everything. And they often have like an FM system. But my hearing loss is such now that FM system doesn't fill in the holes. For me, I have too much hearing loss in certain frequencies, dialogue and speech is just off, and especially if I'm sitting far away from the stage. So I went with a group of our HLAA chapter and we sat in the corner and Vicky was nearby and she had the, the board up next to the stage. And we would read the play and kind of watch it at the same time. And it made a huge difference in the live performance experience.
Michele: I guess I'm next. I'm looking for my name and they captioning because I don't get any audio. I can no longer hear people's voices. So it's all captioning for me. I had the pleasure of attending my first caption play, because Vicki volunteered her services to the SayWhatClub for our convention in San Antonio, Texas. And it was a production of Newsies. And the highlight of the convention for me was experiencing that for the first time and also sitting around and socializing with Vicki during the convention and listening to all of her captioning adventures and her travels. And I just thought this is a really special lady. Again, went to a play at the Hearing Loss Association of America convention and it was Mamma Mia and Vicki captioned that play. Those are the only two caption plays I've attended. I did attend a small theater in Boston that was supposed to be live theater captioning, but they actually just ran the script. And it was not good at all. So the Quality Matters and enhances the experience. And I think we have a real treat today to have Vicki as our guest. Because I think she's just so interesting and fun.
Vicki: Well, thank you, all of you, Julia, Chelle and Michele, and I'm so happy to hear that you had such positive experiences with the productions we captioned. How I even got involved in it was my daughters' went to a performing arts high school, and I was doing CART for one of the students. And she asked me that morning, one morning, "there's a play later on today. What do you think about doing CART for me or captioning that for me?" And I said to her, "I've never done this before. I don't have a script. I have nothing but I'm willing to give it a try." And I went later that day and set up my equipment. And I wrote live and when it came to intermission, I took a look at her and she was crying. She was actually sobbing. And she had said to me that this is the first time In her entire life, that she was able to go to a performance and know what was going on. She didn't-- in the past, she would make up the story. Sort of like if we were to watch a TV show in another language, you kind of get the gist of it, but you make your up your own story. This was the first time in her life, she was able to understand completely, and she would be able to talk about it with other students, and not feel left out. And as soon as I saw that, and felt that emotion, I was hooked. And I knew this is what I need to do. Just so happened, fortuitously, there was an article in our court reporting journal, about the company that captioned on Broadway, and I reached out to them, and I ended up training with them captioning on Broadway. And that's changed my life trajectory completely. I've met such wonderful people. I've had such amazing experiences, and it's just enrich my life. As hopefully the people that I've met, it's the captioning is enrich their lives, too. I can throw in one. One other thing, how it affects the patrons lives, who have many have become friends. For example, in one theater in Sacramento, a gentleman and his wife had season tickets for 25 years, he would sit down with her, and within 10 minutes, or at least by intermission, get up and leave and go to a neighborhood Sportsbar because he had no idea what was going on. Once we started captioning there, this was the first time in 25 years, he was actually able to enjoy the performance. And he's been a devoted season ticket holder, staying for the whole performances. Always weighs at us when he sees us. So that's how this experience has changed other people's lives as well. Fiving them back a part that they thought was gone.
Julia: Thank you, Vicki. I think we I think I know I feel the same way when it comes to CART. People are so appreciative of our ability to allow them to be back into what they used to love or had a part of or be a part of the hearing world and not not have barriers. And and I do I think the whole community, the hearing loss, hearing, hard of hearing community is very appreciative of all the work. And I know it's a lot of work. Will you just give us a little little tidbit on what you do to get ready for a theater show. Because honestly, I am in awe how well you do and how you know, scripts don't always follow. That's why having just your like, manuscript up there is not live captioning, because they always go somewhere else, right? Give us a little little tidbit on how that goes for you.
Vicki: Absolutely. When we first are doing a show for the first time and we get a script. It's a script format with stage directions. If there's a song that there's five people singing five different things at the same time, we just get it with columns. And we have to somehow create something readable and have the timing, precise and have it end when they finish singing. So that's where most of the work is, before we even get into the theater for the first time to even preview the show. We have to take that put it into our software, and it could take us 30, 40 hours to go through manually line by line, try to intuitively determine where they might break up that line with phrasing. We also want to keep the words not a whole long line. And one word on the next line. Because readability is important. It needs to be cut in a, in a chunk of text is easier to read it at one time. We also in music have to determine do we put in all the oohs and ahhs. Usually not because, again, those lines will go fly by so fast, the person isn't going to be able to read it. So all of that is we're being mindful of when we first even prepare the script. Once we get it in that format, we first go and preview the show. And then we break it up with phrasing we see how that actor will breathe. What phrase they're going to deliver. We, if it's the music, we again, we'll, we'll get it where it's phrased. And if it's an emotional song, we might want to only put up two lines instead of three to give more emphasis of it. And that's a little bit more of the artistic part of it. So that preview is used to actually sort of as a somewhat of a rehearsal, because we really don't get a rehearsal. We we just get thrown into that show that we caption. So all of that preparation is done ahead of time. There are times we've come to the theater, and they've changed the script on us when we preview. Oh, we didn't give you the most current script because we'll be flipping and all of a sudden they're seeing a song we don't have. They're saying dialogue we don't have. And typically because we travel so often and we'll just preview the day before, we're often up all night, 5:30, 6 in the morning to implement all of those changes to get it ready for the matinee, which of course, the patrons have no idea of. And in some ways, it reminds me of Dancing with the Stars, when you see them at rehearsal, and they're fumbling and you think, Oh, they're not going to get it together by the performance and somehow miraculously, they perform, when it when it's the time for the show. That's kind of how it is for us. We do whatever it takes to get it ready to hopefully have a smooth and flawless performance, we get the timing down. We can spend when there's simultaneous speakers or lyrics, we can spend, maybe even on it 10 seconds of that show, we can spend a half hour on it or an hour trying to get the timing precise. What words do we display, we don't put just two words, and then two different words. And two other words, because that's so choppy, you're not going to make sense of it. So that's what most of the preparation is. And then when it actually is time for the show. That's when hopefully, it goes smoothly. We never know on stage, what will happen. Chelle, the show that we just captioned for you up in Salt Lake a few weeks ago? When I previewed it, I'm following the script and all of a sudden, they left out a huge chunk of dialogue the night before. And I'm like, did they change the script? Or did they forget? You never know. And so we have in our script, nothing goes on the display until we send that line. We wait to hear if they skip lines, we have to jump down and find where they're at. If I have my writer set up next to me, I'll hurry up and write live until I can try to find where the actor gets back on script again. So you're always on your toes all the time.
Chelle: That's a huge challenge. You made it sound like a lot of work and also very artistic, as you said earlier, because making it fit and at the Salt Lake acting company where you did that script, to me it seemed seamless. So you did absolutely awesome there. And I really enjoyed that. And I can't wait for the next caption play there.
Vicki: Likewise, likewise, I can throw in we do theater and we also do concerts, which that's a challenge in itself because often we don't get setlist of the music. So you have to try to do research to find what might they sing, what might they say? And we often will just get the setlist 20 minutes before the show or in the case of Van Morrison who, we caption at the Hollywood Bowl, he doesn't do a setlist. Once he's on stage, that's when he decides what he's going to perform. I will remember that night. He was with Tom Jones, Tom Jones had a setlist that he stuck to. It was beautiful. [laughing] Van Morrison, not so much. So there's a lot of challenges with concerts. And we feel badly because the patrons have no idea. They show up at a performance expecting and deserving to have captions that are representative of what's going on on stage. And there's a lot behind the scenes where where we're, we're scrambling to get any information to prepare from.
Chelle: Oh, next time it goes do Tom Jones let me know. [laughing]
Michele: I just want to say again that I think what you do is magical. And it's so life changing. And that's great to know that you also do concerts. My last Neil Young concert was in Stuttgart, Germany. And I can still feel that bass speed. So and I know Neil Young's music so well, I could sing along and get the songs but he talks a lot between songs. And so, and I was pretty close. I could lip read some of the things but I couldn't get what he was saying. And that was such a disappointment. So I would love to go to a concert that you are captioning. I think it's just a magical and life changing service. Thank you.
Vicki: Very welcome. There's a another example is Andrea Bocelli was performing and no setlist, nothing. I, this is what I personally do, because I like to be prepared when I go in. I saw where he was touring, and I had a cousin of mine, I bought him a ticket to go see the show in San Jose to get the setlist there. And thank goodness we did because the entire first act was in Italian. Which what would I've done? You know, I would have put in parentheses singing in Italian. That's not fair to the people who were there who want to go see him. And as it was one of the selections was from Figaro. And I just I happen to have my cousin recorded and I had, I don't speak Italian, but I read through that entire Figaro, I recognize the word, "amore". That's the one word I knew. And I looked for where's amore in the entire Figaro, and found that and was able to prepare that. And so the patrons had no idea what went into that. It was quite an accomplishment for me. And again a night it was beautiful night, but one that I'll always remember because we were up all night trying to, to format and phrase Italian, which is not a language that I speak. So you never know.
Julia: That's so awesome. I know there's a lot of work that goes into it, but it really does pay off how hard you work with it. And just the accolades that I hear from those around us. Here in, in Salt Lake that attend regularly the Broadway plays, and now Salt Lake captioning, but it's Salt Lake?
Vicki: Acting Company.
Julia Acting Company. There we go. There we go. Sorry. I, I've been to a couple of their things. I love their theater. Any any ideas? How they decided to bring you in? Was it a patron that asked or did they reach out to you or you to them? Give me some info there because that's a great place. We love it. So.
Vicki: People are wonderful. They're nicest group of people. And apparently the artistic director just happened to be at Eccles when I was captioning, I think she was thought it was Waitress that I was captioning. And she saw that and they wanted to expand their accessibility program. So they reached out to Eccels to see who provided the captioning and then they reached out to me.
Chelle: So that is awesome. And I'm glad they finally did it. I had an experience there seven, six or seven years ago, that was just horrible, because it wasn't caption. Their assistive listening system was not good at all. So I ended up just with my hearing aids alone. And the staff has changed, I think, because I didn't see the lady I dealt with before. And all she did was tell me here come in and read the script, like, two weeks after the play. That was not satisfying. And you know, I I felt gypped I was really happy to see the staff change and the accessibility.
Vicki: Yeah, yeah, they were excellent. And that's a good point Chelle that you made. I'm in, I'm located based here in Las Vegas. And you'd be surprised how I don't know if people don't know that they can request captioning or they don't do it. But it's quite often where they will offer even today, a script and a flashlight, or our performing arts center has a an automated system, that the benefits sure you can sit in any seat and get captions. However, they're basically just PowerPoint slides. And we wanted to try it out. Before we --when people would ask us about it. We don't want to be biased. But we saw when there's a show, particular show that had ad libs in it, all it had was in parentheses, ad libs. And that's not accommodating the patron. But until someone speaks up and says this is not adequate, oftentimes, that's what theaters will think is okay. What they do now is if someone comes in and says no, I want open captioning, they will provide it. So that's important for the patrons to know that they can request it. Nowadays, at least the box office, more or less has some idea of what it is. Back when I started 20 years ago, they didn't know what I was talking about. They didn't know what the patrons were talking about. Now it's a bit more mainstream, and usually they can accommodate a request if it's made within two weeks. And the open caption dates are listed on websites where, I don't know if you know, like with Eccles, it took years to get it listed on the website. So fortunately the theaters are getting a little bit more on board.
Chelle: Um what was I was thinking? Oh yes. I don't think Michele has ever been to Vegas. So it sounds like Hearing Loss LIVE! needs to go to Vegas and check out his show [laughing]. And share our experiences and get captioning for it and maybe help introduce other people. Now, I when I came to the Eccels you were already captioning there. Was that a whole big process to get the captioning in at the Eccles?
Vicki: And I know Julia can speak to this as well because she was there at the beginning. There were two members of the HLAA who had been wanting to get captioning. I offered to come in and do CART which I found has work really well for people who don't know what captioning is. They can see the difference when they're in conversation. And the person that they're speaking with is able to fully understand what's being said. And it's like, once you do that, then they can't deny it, they can't deny that there's a purpose benefit to it. And, Julie, you're you were there, as well.
Julia: Yeah, I remember when they, the members you're talking about, they had to write to, to Broadway Across America, actually and they brought a liaison in who they were really set against not offering captions. And I know at one point, we brought you up to meet with the liaison as well. And I think that's the one you're talking about where you went in and, and was able to show that it was really something that could potentially work, and then it died. And what happened was somebody and I don't know if this was you Vicki, or actually, somebody at Broadway Across America, said to the two members, buy season tickets, then they won't turn you down. So they bought season tickets, and demanded that they have one open caption play, and it did it. It is that 10 years, it's got to be more than 10 years ago. Now. It's been a it's been a while. So I'm, I'm trying to do memory. But-- Vicki: it's been so rewarding to see how it's grown. Julia: Exactly.
Vicki: yeah. Chelle, you are part of the group. Every year, we tried to add more people. And we ended up as creating a community where we would all go out to dinner afterwards together, which was something I personally look forward to. And then the husbands would come or spouses. Husbands or wives would come and it just grew and grew. And that was really rewarding.
Chelle: Yes that was -- Sorry, Julia. That was my favorite part of going out with sitting around the table afterwards, and everybody talking and discussing captioning and hearing loss.
Vicki: So I
think that the patrons, if there's a theater that doesn't offer captioning, that they would like it to. First approach the box office. And hopefully they will be educated enough. Often, the response is, oh, we already provide ASL. And so you're going to need to educate them why that does not work for you, your particular needs. Ask if there's someone who oversees accessibility. It's much better now, I say 10, 10 years ago, it was very, very difficult, we would elevate it, sometimes you have to go to the Director of Operations. Sometimes you have to go to the General Manager. Hopefully, by then they will acknowledge what your needs are. And we'll provide the captioning, it's also important to have the names, potential names of people who can do it. There's not a lot of us who do it to this extent with the preparation. Sometimes just a court reporter will, you know, they'll call a court reporter who all they know is to write live, and they'll come in and they'll try to write a script, or you'll get someone who doesn't put the time in beforehand and will just take the script and think, oh, I'll just put up the lines of this script and not even see it ahead of time. And it's you don't want to read a book, you're not there to read a book. You're there to have that as an accompaniment to help you as a reference. And, but the show is the main thing, you don't want to sit there and read a block of text, a page of text. And that's what a lot of these automated systems have. A page of text where you're sitting there. May as well have a Kindle in front of you and read it. And I tried it myself. And by the time I finished reading and looked up at the stage, they were already on to the next scene. So you're always one step behind.
Michele: The few experiences I've had where they're running the script, I would almost rather have nothing because it's distracting. And I know that we wanted you to caption for us again in 2016, the SayWhatClub convention in Boise, and it was an outdoor Shakespeare Theater and I can't remember the logistics of it, but they weren't on board with you're doing the captioning and we had the dialogue and it was very helpful because it's Shakespeare. Shakespeare is so hard to understand that dialogue anyway and it did help in that instance, though. It's just really disappointing when you have a barrier and you can't match what's going on live with the dialogue, that slide and that's the operative word live captions for theater. And I would really like to see that mainstreamed for all, you know, all theater productions, and I wonder what would the cost be if the production company factor that in, you know, the same way that now all movies are captioned? When you get them on DVD, or however you get them, they're captioned. It would just be so great if we could just have accessibility at all times, I think it's well worth it. And again, some magical service that you provide, and I think it's undervalued by a lot of people. Anyway, it's just would be nice if it were more mainstreamed. Do you have any pointers on what we could do to kind of get a movement for that? I'm sure there already is a movement for that.
Vicki: Well, I found as an anything that a group gets more attention than an individual here in Las Vegas, where again, supposedly the entertainment capital of the world or one of them, there's one person with a hearing loss I know of who loves theater, and she goes to the different shows, and she has a hard time, often getting recognition of her accommodation needs. And it's because it's one person. In Salt Lake, there were two. In places that have like a large membership, that will all approach together, it's much easier, obviously, when you get numbers, or have the HLAA chapter, we don't actually don't have an HLAA chapter in Las Vegas. So it's when you get organized as a group and approach them that's, I have found is much more beneficial. And no one ever wants to take, you know, the legal approach on it. But there actually is a lawsuit, a, a ruling Childress, that's C-h-i-l-d-r-e-s-s versus Fox, where this one patron wanted to see Rent in St. Louis at the Fabulous Fox Theater, and they denied it. And she ended up taking it to court and they ended up getting a ruling in her favor to provide captions. So that's major that if they completely deny you, you know, you can always bring that up as well, too. And that, that gets their attention, which obviously, we don't want to go to that extent. But it's there. More and more nowadays, though, they are willing to accommodate patrons.
Chelle: Real quick, and then I'll let Julia have a go. [laughing] One of the other thing is we had at the SayWhatClub convention in Boise was what was his name? Richard. I'm not getting his last name. He was our guest speaker. And he had a lot to do with help building the ADA. And at the end, he said, In the end, we all just want a spontaneous life just like everyone else. And you know, we want to walk in wherever we are, and and have the captions ready. So wouldn't that be great with theater to right now we get like usually one caption performance. And no, say in the time or date.
Vicki: I will just chime in. We actually did one remotely a Hamilton up in San Jose, where they had forgotten to let us know that they scheduled a caption performance and never told us. And we know that show really well. But we're able to have the soundboard be connected through Zoom. So we can get the clear sound on Zoom, right from the actors mics on the stage. And we were able to send the captions remotely to people's devices or they can put a TV a smart TV up in the front of the theater and have the captions be displayed there. Obviously on site is better. You know, I don't know how much of a lag there was. We actually compensated for the lag where we would send the lines sooner to still have it be appearing at the time. We as we were monitoring it on an iPad. So we were able to provide the captions to electronic devices if need be. So there's a lot of options as well too. If there's theaters where they don't have captioners available. There's many other options.
Julia: Well, that that's huge, that we're now starting into the age of remote because look at the opportunities that could open up for more theaters to provide access and not say, oh, we can't get anybody onsite. though I agree with you Vicki, anytime you can get somebody on site, it is so much better than remote. That's, that's the gold standard is live onsite, theater captioner. No doubts about it. We stress that a lot in a lot of our blogs and podcasts. And we're going to keep stressing that because we need people to know that this is a viable alternative. And the work you put into it seems overwhelming, I think to the regular person, but those of us in the captioning and CART industry, man to have all of that information before a class or before a conference, how important it is and how much we love to have that availability so that when live captions happen, it's so much clearer. So I don't think it's overwhelming. I think it's just amazing that you that you put in this much time and effort and it it really, I think in the long run it really, don't you feel that you get, just the patrons. I always go back to those we work for are so appreciative of what we do. Even if they don't know how hard it might be to get to that level. They just they're just it's so appreciative that it just makes it worth while.
Vicki: Absolutely. And it's also, it's twofold where I want to do whatever I can to relieve the stress of being live at a performance and not knowing I'll do whatever it takes to prepare thoroughly. That being said, there's always surprises I captioned a Janet Jackson concert, where I flew to San Diego, to see where that was the stop right before the Hollywood Bowl. And I was able to get all the songs and everything. And I made my script. And I was all set and I knew what chit chat she was going to do. Except unbeknownst to me that night, she brought in every dancer that she had over the course of her career. I don't remember how many 50 people if not more, brought them all on stage, introduce each one individually told her history with the person in the theater, she, you know, the productions, the shows that she done, where they trained in Europe. And so it doesn't matter how much you prepare, you never know what's going to happen. So that's why I try to alleviate the stress as much as possible to leave a little window for whatever whatever might happen at the actual performance.
Julia: A whole bunch of surnames just went through my head and I almost cried for you right there. Any more questions for Vicki? Any comments. All right. Thank you, Vicki, for joining us today. We appreciate you taking time out and doing so. Next --
Vicki: I just want to say if there's any questions anyone has or who are listening to this podcast, feel free to email me directly because I'm always happy to lend a hand or help or do whatever I can. Because this is my passion. So you can just email me at Turnerreporting@gmail.com Any questions anything I'm always happy to respond or help when possible.
Julia: Awesome. We will make sure your information not only in our blog, we'll put it on that end of our video as well as in the captions. So it's Christmas time. Have you shopped for your HoH yet? Well, next week, Chele and Michelle and I are going to talk about shopping for your hard of hearing person in your life and some ideas for gifts to give the. Or if you're like me, though, I'm not a HoH- a wanna be HoH, I guess- I shop for myself. So good ideas all the way around. We look forward to seeing you next week. And thank you.
Vicki: Thanks everyone.
Join Hearing Loss LIVE! next week for shopping for your HoH. And check out our blog at hearinglosslive.com